Make an Emotional Connection with Brand Loyalty Programs

Brand loyalty has never been more important to marketers. Today’s shopper has more brand choices than ever in just about every category. And as the ability to understand and target consumers gets more and more sophisticated, the threat of losing customers to another brand is always just an email away. Luckily, brand loyalty strategies have become just as sophisticated. We’ve come a long way from the early days of loyalty programs!

From Green Stamps to the Green Consumer

Let’s look back a bit. There may be some of you who can still recall the days of S&H Green Stamps. This revolutionary program ran in supermarkets from the 1930s through the 1980s. Shoppers were given stamps at checkout with a value equal to their purchase. Shoppers pasted their stamps into collection books, then could go to a redemption center and trade those stamps for an amazingly diverse assortment of merchandise. You’ve got to admit, 50 years is an incredibly long time for a single program, at least compared to today’s marketing environment!

We are past the days of simply collecting stamps or punching cards at checkout. Today’s most successful loyalty programs establish an emotional connection between the brand and the consumer that is much harder for another brand to compete against. That can mean everything from offering personal rewards, creating a community of like-minded shoppers, or supporting environmental or other causes shared by the brand and its base of consumers.

Loyalty Programs Can Take Many Forms

At the same time, the mechanics of today’s programs must be tailored to the lifestyles of the brands’ core consumers. There is no one-size-fits-all type of loyalty program. Consumers are not averse to involvement and frequent communication if they feel that the program is of a real benefit.

  • Tiered Programs escalate the rewards and involvement for a consumer along with their levels of purchase and time in a program. These are particularly useful where the brand has high purchase frequency and a variety of products, such as beauty.
  • Goal-Setting Programs reward customers for accomplishing a personal goal through the use of a brand’s products. Weight loss and fitness are two categories where brands can help customers attain goals and track their progress.
  • Charity-related Programs turn customer loyalty into donations for a cause that is shared between the consumer and the brand. These can work well in any category, but make sure there is a logical connection between the cause and the brand.
  • Community Programs where the brand becomes the focus of a community of consumers who share a passion for the brand and its category. These work well for any category that has high-consumer involvement.
  • Pay-to-Join Programs have proven successful in categories with frequent purchases. Amazon Prime is certainly the, well, prime example, but these can work in multiple retail categories.
  • Subscription Programs might not at first seem like they are loyalty programs, but in fact they have found a way to truly lock in consumers for repeated weekly or monthly purchases. They key to these programs is to have a real brand point-of-difference over competing programs.

Treat Consumers as Members, not Shoppers

The common element in all of these strategies is that they each have the potential for deeper emotional connections to the brand than simply supplying discounts. Brands need to communicate frequently with their loyalty program members not only to generate purchase, but to remind them of the brand’s values and point-of-difference so that shoppers feel positive about the brand beyond the product. Every contact should be a positive experience.

REI,  a specialty outdoor retailer has a program that not only caters to their customers needs but also incentivizes future purchases.  Even though their program has a cost of $20 to enter consumers believe the benefits of this lifetime membership outweigh that drawback.  The program includes a no-questions-asked return policy. All purchases are tracked at the member level allowing for easy returns without the need of a receipt.  Other benefits include 10% back on purchases, member specials, access to REI classes, events, and adventures like the popular REI garage sale where you can buy majorly discounted gear.  The ROI associated with the product discounts alone make this a no-brainer for any multi-purchase customer.

Think Long-term Programs for Lasting Returns

These strategies can be some of the most powerful ways for marketers to get around the constant threat of losing customers to another brand’s latest offer. But they are only really worth the investment if you view their return in the long-term. If you’re asking consumers to commit to your brand, you must demonstrate that you’re committed to them. That is the real difference between today’s sophisticated loyalty programs and the disposable punch card programs of the past.

Customers will be loyal to you…if you are truly loyal to them.  Let’s talk loyalty strategy together.