Love-mark No More. Friend-mark vs. Mom-mark. Brand loyalty re-imagined.
Here is two takes on loyalty, by Chris Fesen and Frank Pagano, in an age when it’s harder and harder to lock fans into a Brand forever. What strategies should Brands of the future adopt to boost frequency? The idea of periodical bursts of product launches and large advertising campaigns, paired with promotions and rewards schemes, to keep that initial fire alive, do not seem to work anymore, or they are just not enough for the contemporary socialites and techies. This is no country for Old Love Marks.
#1 – The Friend-mark
Fifteen years ago I attended an inspiring keynote speech by Kevin Roberts. It was a blast. One of the questions that he asked the audience was: would you tattoo on your skin your favorite Brand logo? What Brands would deserve to find permanent space on your chest?
Try to name yours, just for one second.
Harley Davidson is probably one the most tattooed Brands on the planet. Its ethos made it one of the hottest Lovemarks listed on Roberts’ book. It’s not just a Brand, but an affair. You would, indeed, tattoo the name of your sweetheart on your arm. If a Brand is the love of your life, loyalty means that you would ‘put a ring on it’ and stick around. To use a more technical jargon, you are now in the lower funnel of your consumer journey. You are finally in love. You are not dating anymore. It should all be fire and passion from this point onwards.
I wanted to write a short piece about Brand loyalty for quite a while. Loyalty is that feeling of belonging and being fully understood which makes you go back to a Brand over and over again. Frequency of purchase is, together with recruitment, the driver of growth of any Brand.
Is loyalty still a thing?
According to a recent study about loyalty (2019, Visa), most of our subscriptions are left unused. This is a common behavior in people’s lives. After the honeymoon period, the true retainer into a franchise tends to be more functional (for example, time saving, by going back to something that we know) than any Brand Manager would like to admit.
Why is this behavior so dangerous in today’s business? What should Brands do differently? The old script contemplated a great product proposition, and one great story to tell, consistently, for a few years, just the time to amortize whatever investment the latest strategic business plan identified as key for the evolution of a Brand. All of that, based on a new consumer insight. Loyalty is at risk, not because we are not loyal anymore. Loyalty is at risk, because the old game of purchase & reward doesn’t work any longer. Fire lasts for very little time. Bursts of fire and passion will not guarantee loyalty any more.
How does loyalty 2.0 look like?
The first date strategy. Technology unlocks choice. And, technology unlocks greater service, faster and faster. Lower funnel retainers, such as points’ collection and VIP memberships, and even personalization per se, are no longer the parachute able to mitigate change. The current decline of Retail and their loss to online are not a signifier of the decline of Branding, but of loyalty. New generations don’t need rewards, but a reason to show up in the first place. It’s almost like offering a continuous first date, with whoever you are. A Brand needs to show all of its worth, always. One key story and one key benefit are no longer enough. To use Sephora’s example, entertainment and solid service is more important than trading. The world doesn’t need stuff and a story, but a wow effect, something that connects with the moment, an experience that runs through the full menu of emotions that human beings can feel. Exactly like in a perpetual first date. This is extremely hard to execute for a Brand, as it requires listening and audience engagement, besides tremendous speed. You want to date the hottest kid in high school? Ask them out, fast, over and over again, and show off.
The old married couple strategy. There could be more and better, besides the wow. Exactly like your old spouse, fans need to know everything about you, everything. And, they will still stick around, despite your imperfections, due to your honesty, integrity and end to end intentions. The strategy here is to open up your books. You want to know if a Michelin three stars’ Chef is the real deal? Watch a documentary about Massimo Bottura, or any of the top Chefs in the world. Carefully watch a full day of their lives, and you will pay respect to the whole category of people working in a kitchen, forever. Brands should not be worried about showing their cards. Dear Brands of the future, put your things in order, and give them away, wherever possible. It will pay back. Transparency will be a must anyways. Exactly like an old spouse, you always have to find new ways of generating love, beyond the boredom of the everyday. You are being watched. Do, don’t tell. It’s not fire per se, but solid friendship, around an authentic, long term, and social plan for the good of everyone.
Where is my freebie? If you really have to give away freebies to your fans, do it in a smart and sustainable way. What’s unique about you, which only you can give your fans? Who can you partner with to give your fans something special, like only a first dater or a real friend would choose?
Game is on.
Theater and consistency through the whole supply chain will be the keys to save any sort of Brand loyalty, and change the transactional narrative between Brands & fans dominating in the current times of marketplaces and promotional peaks. You don’t want to be a Lovemark. That doesn’t exist anymore. Be the friend that you would like to court, know, wow. Be the friend that you would like to have around, to change your life and your community. The new mark of loyalty spells like being friends.
#2 – The Mom-mark.
Brand Loyalty is alive. However, it cannot be automated, mass personalized or artificially constructed, like a mileage program. These are feeble attempts to understand humans in mass with one program, defined routes, or artificial intelligence. Instead, Brand loyalty comes from one’s ability to consistently deliver a personal positive result. Personal in that when my needs change, my ‘Brand’ is able to keep up. Positive in that the result keeps me coming back. When we have a positive outcome, our brain remembers, and we file the experience away to be repeated at another time. We love the positive.
(Brand) Loyalty has an element that is profoundly human. I have loyalty to people…like my tailor for instance, who ensures my clothes fit well. I have less loyalty to things such as my car, even though it gets me from point A to B. The difference is the relationship that I have with my tailor is personal…it’s human. It’s this personal relationship that keeps me coming back over and over for years. It’s how he asks me about my family, my job, my life and how he can adjust my changing needs….like adjusting pants to accommodate an expanding waistline.
For loyalty to exist, so too must choice. Whether a choice between A or B, or A through N, we must have the option to select something else, something that is new and that we have not tried before. Loyalty is a choice – a choice to repeat or not the experience we had in the past. It’s a choice to repeat against all other possibilities, new and old. That is what loyalty is about.
We are loyal to experiences, not Brands. It’s the experiences that make our lives better in some way that we keep coming back to again and again, until we get romanced by the new kid on the block or our needs change.
There is a direct connection between loyalty and agility. Human needs change over time….and it’s the ability to keep up with these changes, anticipate these changes, which keeps us in the circle, loyal. To be loyal through change … that’s the trick that every brand tries to tackle.
Who better to be a model of agility, sticking with us through all our human changes?
…..the one and only….Mom!
We are all loyal to the same person….Mom. Inherently in our human wiring is a loyalty to the one that brought us into this world, Mom. Mom looked out for us. No matter what we did wrong, what we spilled, what we broke, what we failed at….Mom put her arms around us and said ‘I love you.’ Moms are magicians of loyalty, creating positive unique experiences that day in and day out, keep us coming back long into our years, whether it be for Christmas, birthdays or a simple chat over coffee. The relationship between mother and child is epitome of relationships between two human beings. No relationship is stronger, more unique, more ingrained in who we are as humans. What can we learn from this innate human relationship between mom and child as we seek to build Brand loyalty?
Lastly, loyalty comes from forgiveness. I recently called my cable company about some unusual charges from a Sports channel subscription. Turns out, my four-year-old girls were secretly football lovers and magically ordered the channel by pressing all the buttons on the remote. I politely explained the situation to the customer service rep, and asked for a credit for the two months of charges. In return the representative said since it wasn’t the cable companies’ fault, and that I was obligated to pay. How would a mom react? A mom would have said, I understand the situation, apologized for the incident, offered advice on parental controls and removed the charges. A fantastic experience, where I learn my lesson, feel grateful for the generosity of the Brand for understanding and empathizing with my situation. It’s this empathy that would keep me as a customer and evangelist. Unfortunately, the cable company took another route keeping them in my mental box as a ‘supplier’ of service. A service that could be transferred to another company within minutes.
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Francesco Pagano, Vice President, EMEA Head of Portfolio of Licenses Brands at Fossil Group Europe, is passionate about craft brands, innovation, brand management, brand communication and international business. He is always up for irresistible product concepts, ultimate communication via integrated campaigns and great Italian food.