a brand loyalty 180

The branded vs. private label product debates of late had got me thinking about brand loyalty loyalty-1recently and then I came across a great post by a former colleague, David Murphy (David and I worked together when I headed up Brand & Strategy for Sony Electronics and David was the president of Y&R Irvine — he’s now got his own shop Barrie D’Rozario Murphy, the agency behind the new United Airlines work.)

David’s post turned the concept of brand loyalty on its head, asking, “Want brand loyalty?  Be loyal to customers.”  What a provocative concept!  Many companies have programs to foster customers’ loyalty to them, but what about actively fostering our own company’s loyalty to our customers?!

David goes on to applaud United’s Mileage Plus program for demonstrating loyalty to frequent flyers by fast tracking them through check-in and security lines and waiving baggage fees.  I don’t share David’s enthusiasm for  frequent flyer programs (perhaps because those Platinum handcuffs haven’t done much for me lately), but I do think we can look at customer loyalty programs and by doing a 180 on them, we can identify ways to be more loyal to our customers.

If we expect our customers to:

  • go out of their way to buy from us
  • pay more for what we offer, and
  • continue choosing us even when faced with tempting offers from the competition

then perhaps we need to:

  • go out of our way to do things for our customers — some ideas:

providing our services after hours so that we’re available whenever our customers need us

instituting “power hours” like Home Depot is now doing during which employees do nothing else (like stocking shelves or cleaning) besides serving customers

offering to hand-deliver or at least overnight ship products that are out of stock at no cost (notice I didn’t say no “additional” cost — that’s right, if we don’t have the product a customer wants, maybe we should give it to them for free as soon as it arrives in an attempt to make up for the inconvenience?)

  • “pay” more for our customers — some ideas:

providing personalized service through a designated sales rep who knows me, helps me make better purchases, and customizes the products to my taste

comping “value-added” services — e.g., my car repair shop always does a 10-point inspection and a free car wash whenever they work on my car

biting the bullet and not increasing prices when our costs increase

  • continue serving existing customers well even as we seek to acquire new customers — some ideas:

offering equivalent or better deals than the ones we run to promote trial by new customers

acknowledging and thanking them for their continued patronage (yes, I literally mean saying “thank you”)

doing follow-up’s on their purchases to ensure they’re satisfied with them

I realize we can’t do all of these things or do them for every customer, but I do think we should consider how we can demonstrate our loyalty to our most important customers (not always the most profitable or the highest sales drivers, mind you) .

Let’s make “customer relationship management” a two-way relationship — after all, mutual loyalty is what makes personal relationships so rewarding — a brand’s relationships with its customers should be no different!

(P.S. I found the image above on “Sonnie’s Porch — therefore, I’m noting that it’s  reprinted with permission from http://sesantos.com.ph © Copyright 2005-2009 by Sonnie Santos — however if this attribution is not correct, please let me know and I will fix it.)

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  • Great points, Denise. Love your ideas for going out of our way to do something for customers. And totally agree with the need to treat existing customers well and as if they matter.

    Thought you might be interested to read a story I wrote last month about the difference between real customer loyalty and points-based loyalty programs. http://retailhitsandmisses.blogspot.com/2009/04/5-must-dos-in-building-customer-loyalty.html

    Thanks for writing.

  • Great post Denise. I love the idea of looking at the concept of loyalty from a different perspective. In that spirit, I’d like to submit some thoughts I’ve been working on lately as it relates to loyalty.

    The interesting thing about loyalty ‘programs’ is that, oftentimes, they are handicapped from the start. With the goal of making all customers more loyal, they face an uphill battle as most customers are not capable of being loyal. It’s just not in their DNA. Think about friends or colleagues you’ve known through your life. Doesn’t it seem that a select few are just more pre-disposed towards being loyal? Most of the time, it has little to do with what you have actually done for them – they are just ‘loyal’ people…it’s in their DNA.

    The holy grail, in my opinion, lies in redirecting some of the time, resources and dollars that are spent trying to MAKE people loyal towards finding out the qualities and indicators in the sub-group of folks that are pre-disposed towards being loyal within your category….and then focusing on making it as easy for them as possible to act that way with you.

    For example – one way to look at Apple is to say that everything they do in terms of their product design and service model is designed to MAKE consumers more loyal. However, most devout Apple-ites know that much of what Apple does contradicts that. The Macbook you buy today will likely be outdated in less than 2 years and folks who bought the first iPhone were basically required to get back in line less than 12 months later.

    However, another way to look at it is that there is something in the core DNA of devout Apple users that makes them pre-disposed to being more loyal to Apple. They are, mostly, people who desire to identify and surround themselves with creativity and design and those that are anti-establishment. And so, they are willing to wait in line for days and trade up their hardware and software frequently and pay more without requiring much from Apple other than it remaining true to itself…

    Net-net…perhaps by spending more upfront in identifying how to reach the customers most likely to be loyal to you, you can avoid bigger costs on the backside trying to instill loyalty in those for whom the concept makes no sense…

    A long comment in a moment of contrarianism…sorry! 🙂