Ginger Conlon, Editor-in-Chief, Direct Marketing News
Countless customers have tattooed the Harley-Davidson logo onto their bodies. A couple who met and love skiing at Stowe Mountain Resort named their son Stowe. When I moved to London for a year I packed enough Dawn (dishwashing liquid) and Shout (laundry stain remover) to last the entire time, in case those products weren't sold locally.
This is loyalty at its most fervent—and it all starts with marketing.
Marketing communicates an organization's brand promise. It's from that original promise that all customer expectations are set. Whether a company delivers on its brand promise underlies the perceptions customers develop over time. If customers perceive that a company is true to its word, then and only then will the foundation for loyalty be established. Businesses that don't live up to their promises are unlikely to ever foster loyalty, forever struggling for retention and churning through customers at breakneck speed.
Yes, customers form perceptions that they share with friends or associates who are perspective customers—more so than ever due to the prevalence of social media. And that has caused many pundits to say that customers “own” branding today. But even those opinions germinate from the original brand promise and whether or not that promise was and continues to be met.
And it doesn't stop with the brand promise. That's just the foundation. Marketers need to consider how all of their actions impact loyalty over time. Will their decisions foster loyalty or damage it? From what it says about products and service and price, marketing speaks for the company. Those messages may or may not align with the brand promise and, thus, customers' expectations. As a result, customer loyalty may increase or decrease following an interaction or communication.
Additionally, the relevancy and timing of communications demonstrate customer understanding—or a lack thereof. Customers will feel more valued when messages engage them based on what a company has learned about them over time. Speak to what matters to a customer and watch loyalty grow. Conversely, sending too many generic messages may lead customers to feel that they're just another open wallet spilling cash into a company's coffers.
It's no easy task to be the voice of an entire organization. Marketers don't always have the authority to compel the changes needed to deliver on their company's original brand promise—and a promise made is not easily changed.
So read our 2013 Essential Guide to Loyalty Marketing and learn how, through rewards programs, customer experience, and voice of the customer initiatives, marketers can positively impact customer loyalty over the long term.