By Chuck Sink
My opinion is we should avoid tossing around such powerful words as loyalty when we’re designing promotional programs. “Customer loyalty” in the context of incentive based purchases is a misnomer. Loyalty is faithful adherence to something in good times and bad; at full retail or deep discount. Loyalty is akin to honor, faith, respect and even love. You cannot offer discounts in exchange for certain behavior and call that loyalty. So, marketers, in this supposed age of transparency, can we be real about this?
The airline industry came up with an accurate and well received phrase: “frequent flyer” miles or discounts. That’s real. Consumers are delighted to redeem their frequent flyer miles and these programs certainly drive repeat business to the airlines that offer them. The trick is to make the repeat purchase incentives realistic and within reach. People flock to an offer when it’s actually a good deal and they see the value clearly.
There is such a thing as real customer loyalty. You’ll never find a loyal Harley Davidson owner looking at Suzuki motorcycles or even the Harley-styled look-alike rice burners. Getting a tattoo of a manufacturing company’s logo requires some genuine brand loyalty. Few brands have that kind of cultural and emotional connection with their target consumers.
Think of a brand to which you’re loyal. From what does your affinity in the brand stem? It’s based on something you genuinely feel about the company. Various impressions and interactions made you feel good about patronizing this unique business.
In recent years, Ford Motor Company has earned my loyalty with both quality and corporate governance policies. This is after I swore that only Japanese cars would suit me. I am certain I’ll buy another Ford as my next new vehicle. Apple has many loyalists and they win that loyalty by making the lives of their customers easier and more entertaining. What other brands can you think of that earn real loyalty from customers?
Word choice is important when describing our promotions and offers to the market. I have come to ignore any promotion with the word loyalty in it because I know that it’s only an attempt to make me spend more money, not save it. Everybody else knows that too. If I do respond to a “customer loyalty” offer, it’s because I need the product anyway and the promo catches me at the right time. This is probably true of most consumers. We go for the most bang for our buck every time. Sometimes that bang comes from the feeling we get buying from a company or person we feel good about.