What does it mean to create loyal customers in a world where your competitors can be everywhere at once, shopping habits are increasingly search driven, and a single social misstep can quickly erode the favorable reputation it took your brand years to build?
It has become all too common for brands to promote brand loyalty simply by lavishing reward points on anybody willing to identify as a customer or load an app on their phone. And when the appeal of earning exclusive deals and discounts doesn’t do the trick, there’s always the option to fall back on scare tactics that point out your competitors’ shortcomings (remember those old I’m a Mac/I’m a PC chestnuts?).
However, today’s consumers – particularly digital natives like millennials and Gen Zers – may be more concerned with fear of missing out (FOMO) than fear of messing up. And with online reviews, social referrals, and comparison shopping tools readily available to influence every purchase decision, marketers are facing an uncomfortable new reality: Even our most loyal customers may ditch us as their bestie brand friend whenever something new and more appealing pops up in their social news feeds or gets deeply discounted in an Amazon Prime Day sale.
Shifting consumer behaviors, combined with an ever increasing need to keep costs contained, are causing brands to rethink their definitions of loyalty and reinvent their strategies for incentivizing it. If you’re looking to strengthen your post-purchase customer relationships through content, here are some key considerations and helpful conversations you should check out:
Are some actions “more loyal” than others?
Businesses have begun to expand their view of the loyalty value proposition, including how to quantify it, reward it, and maximize returns from it. As a recent MarketingWeek podcast discusses, U.K.-based brands like Virgin, Sainsbury’s, and Sky now factor in location, tenure, and frequency of purchase into their loyalty program calculations. In addition, U.S. companies like Sephora and Subway are leveling the engagement potential of their programs by adding weighted tiers, community-activation features, and exclusive live experiences, helping them distinguish random acts of fandom from passionate evangelism – and reward both behaviors accordingly.
Consider: As Robert Rose recently reminded us, if you want to influence the buying process at any key consumer touchpoint, you first need to win every moment of that consumer’s trust. That’s not something to be taken lightly. Trust that leads to lasting loyalty likely won’t be forged on a single interaction, a temporary discount, or a free gift gated behind a mountain of frequent flier miles. Rather, it will take an ongoing commitment to delivering a wholly satisfying brand experience – something that loyalty-driving content efforts like chatbots, how-to videos, and customer testimonials are well suited to help you accomplish.
Incidentally, the above conversation is just one of a number of discussions Marketing Week offers on the subject of brand loyalty. If this is an area you want to explore in more detail, I recommend starting here.
Potential cash value of loyalty
Bloomberg (and many other news sources) recently discussed another way brands are taking their vision of loyalty into the 21st century – shifting their incentives from an arbitrary points-based system to actual currency or cryptocurrency at least. Enterprising brands like Chanticleer, Kodak, and Burger King have begun to experiment with blockchain-backed financial exchanges, with a few issuing branded digital coins loyal customers can use to pay for their purchases, trade for other cryptocurrencies, or even redeem for cold hard cash. One benefit to consumers who collect branded digital coins is that whatever they earn is theirs to keep and use as they please – unlike rewards like airline miles, which carry a lot of restrictions and are designed to expire after an established period of inactivity.
Consider: While the value this highly volatile trend might hold for content marketing has yet to be determined, its potential to create walled-garden economies that scale is virtually unlimited. Now is a great time for content strategists to start leveling up their understanding of deregulated digital currency (this Fortune article is a good place to start) and planning how they might want to participate should the right opportunity arise sooner rather than later.
Emotional triggers as brand loyalty drivers
The building blocks of lasting brand engagement piqued the curiosity of cultural scientist and Iconoculture co-founder Mary Meehan. In this Forbes article, she shares findings from a comprehensive research study on how brands can establish emotional loyalty at scale by leveraging five key trends as cultural drivers of brand affinity.
Among the more intriguing aspects of Mary’s research is something called the bystander effect – essentially, the impact that observing high-profile membership in an exclusive and rewarding group may have on outsiders. Leveraging this effect could serve as a powerful catalyst for increasing brand evangelism, especially among the FOMO crowd.
Consider: The potential impact of the bystander effect makes an interesting case for creating high-visibility content experiences that don’t just make customers feel important but subtly sell a lifestyle that motivates onlookers to want to experience those benefits for themselves. A great example of this is the documentary-style series from outdoor lifestyle brand Yetifeaturing people who inspire others to follow in their (very active) footsteps.
Does brand loyalty have an expiration date?
As marketers, how do we sustain brand loyalty if our customers will eventually outgrow (literally or figuratively) their need for our products? It’s a question online shoe retailer Rothy’s faced when debuting a new line for young girls, footwear made from recycled plastic water bottles. As this Adweek article discusses (free registration is required), the brand focused its social media content on the versatility of the durable, fashionable, and machine washable shoes to capitalize on both the feelings of confidence the shoes inspire in active young girls and the social media bragging rights parents earn for supporting an eco-conscious company. Considering that Rothy’s net promoter score is reportedly off the charts, it’s a strategy that can continue to pay off in brand goodwill even after those shoes are ready for the hand-me-down pile.
Bringing back that brand-loving feeling
When you’re beginning to build a consumer connection and the lines of communication suddenly go dark, content marketing techniques like retargeting can often help draw them back on your path to conversion. However, as an Adweek article points out (free registration required), stalking (aka retargeting) may not be the best approach for rebuilding broken customer relationships that occur after a purchase has been made. For example, if product malfunctions or a poor customer service experience led the customers to pull a disappearing act, bombarding them with standard we-want-you-back messages can come off as insensitive to their needs or out of touch with their experience. The article suggests you first find out why they left (Twitter, surveys, or email can uncover the cause for their dissatisfaction). Then follow up with a constructive content experience. Pointing to demo videos, community forums, or DIY troubleshooting tools (like AT&T’s UFix self-service system) can help turn a negative situation into a memorable, brand-positive experience.
True brand loyalty may be harder to earn these days – and even harder to sustain over the long term. But with the right content creation tools and a commitment to being responsive to evolving needs and preferences, the brownie points your brand can earn from satisfied return customers will be well worth the extra effort.
Jodi Harris is the Director of Editorial Content & Curation at Content Marketing Institute. As a content strategy consultant, Jodi helps businesses evaluate their content needs and resources; build infrastructure and operations; and create compelling stories to be delivered across multiple media channels and platforms. Follow Jodi on Twitter at @Joderama.