Loyalty is a two way street, or it should be Direct Magazine June 28, 2000

The scene is childhood in the 1950’s. You’ve just come home from a trip to the supermarket with your mother. She passes you a sheet of little green stamps and a book to stick them into. Finally, after weeks of collecting and licking and sticking stamps enough books are full to warrant sitting down with the catalogue of all the neat stuff you could “buy” with the books of stamps.

For those of us too young to have participated in that primordial, philatelic pastime, let’s fast forward to the mid ’80’s. In droves we joined the ranks of”frequent flyers”, flitting from airline to airline to take advantage of the latest promotion for triple miles between Oshkosh and Oshawa. It was fun…for awhile.

Then came the ’90’s   sales slid…costs climbed…profits peaked.

Suddenly, like a virulent contagious disease that remains undetected until the emergency wards fill up, the dernier cri was unleashed on an unsuspecting consuming public…customer loyalty programs! Things to collect like membership cards, points and more points. Stuff to receive like newsletters, free samples, special services. Places to belong like clubs and circles. Wonderful words to describe you like Premium, Select, Priviligé. You and your peers, whoever they are, from kids to seniors.

Cookies, coffee, cat food, credit cards or cars, it seems no product is immune (or not for long) from the scourge of customer loyalty programs. In fact, I’m sure it could be a full-time occupation just keeping up with them all.

” But, but, but…”, I hear the marketing managers sputtering. “We have to get customers to stay with us. We have to compete. We’re building a database that allows us to track customer behaviour around the clock. We have all this information at our disposal. Look at this powerful new program, these prestigious new premiums, our bountiful new benefits. We’re giving away gifts. We’re giving away goodies. We’re giving away margin…”

You’re giving away the farm.

Know why? Loyalty can’t be bought. At least, not for long.

Not to mention it may all just be getting to be a teensy bit much too much for people to take. In medicine, when the disease takes over the patient dies. In marketing, when the customer reaches overload…you know what happens next.

Let’s put on our consumer hats for a minute. I ask, “Hey, Marketing World! This is not only about my loyalty to you! What have you done to deserve my loyalty? You’ve pushed merchandise at me. You’ve mailed me more stuff than I ever care to read. You’ve invaded my privacy. I’ve got a wallet full of every conceivable form of membership identification. Every breath I take, every move I make has been data captured, data processed and data based (or may be it’s de-based). Hello, out there. Anybody home?”

All I, and, I think, most consumers really want from a “loyalty program” is:

  1. To perceive that what you’re trying to get me to do has some genuine substance and relevance for me…personally. Too often marketers seem to assume people are just sitting waiting for their first next bright idea. Wrong. My life has context and texture and a lot going on in it. That wonderful database will tell you all about it. Now, what are you going to do for me that ninety-nine others won’t do?
  2. Not to have to work at this loyalty thing. Just make it easy for me. Don’t ask me to remember to carry goofy little cards around, or make me wade through encyclopedias of instructions and wait weeks and weeks before collecting “my rewards”. Relationships with my nears and dears keep me busy enough, thank you. Don’t ask me to go out of my way to work at one with you, because I simply won’t.
  3. A little love in your heart, as the old song goes. OK, that may be pushing it, so I’ll settle for a little empathy…human being to human being. The target market of one. What that looks like is well-researched, substantiated approaches, real thought put into the use of technology, delivered through tactics that aren’t intrusive in an obvious way.
  4. Delivery on your promises…and then some! You earn the right to receive my loyalty and maybe, just maybe, I’ll stick around.

 Charles de Gruchy remembers how it was

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