The End of the Year as We Know It
The holiday season is here once again and along with it comes the dreaded end-of-year business slump that all B2B business hate to face. As we mentioned in last month’s article, the holidays are an excellent time for B2C brands to drive revenue, but those of us on the B2B and service-oriented side aren’t as fortunate.
One of the points we at VIPRE Security explored in that same post was thanking customers and building long-term loyalty during the holidays. We want customers loyal to our businesses. They buy more, pay more and refer more often. However, recent research has shown that brand loyalty is in decline. So, as a company you must be asking yourself, “What can we do to earn greater trust, commitment and advocacy?” The answer isn’t more promotions or emails. It takes a rethinking of what loyalty means in a digital age.
Loyalty is About Emotion
Most brands measure brand loyalty by repeat purchase behavior. This metric is often like the old adage of putting the cart before the horse. At its most basic level, loyalty is powered by emotion; repeat purchases are just the result.
The increased popularity of promotions shows this flawed thinking in action. Promotional pricing may be a way to drive more transactions, but it doesn’t necessarily earn long-term loyalty. Ivan Wicksteed, the former CMO of Old Navy, has said, “It’s the emotional connections that a brand makes … that last the longest and go the deepest.”
Things are getting worse, though, as brands have begun to penalize disloyal behavior with more severity. Many businesses are looking to lock customers into longer contracts against their own preferences or they will punish customers heavily for trying to leave their contracts early. These behaviors will ruin loyalty in the long run, but they also will trickle down to social circles, leading to bad word-of-mouth and ruining possible new business. We always must seek to create authentic and emotionally charged experiences for our customers.
Loyalty Goes Both Ways
Customers today expect loyalty to be reciprocal. There often is a disconnect in how brands discuss loyalty. So much so that phrases like “brand loyalty” and “customer loyalty” often mean the same thing to many when they mean two different things. The world would be much different if brands were loyal to their customers.
Show Gratitude for Massive Loyalty Returns
How can a brand in today’s business environment create an experience that is reciprocal, authentic and emotional? It can be achieved by placing a focus on fostering the emotional response that is most likely to drive loyal behavior: gratitude.
Gratitude is a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. It is inherently reciprocal, combing both emotion and behavior. There is a feeling and expression of appreciation through action. Gratitude can then serve as the foundation of a relationship beyond the transaction. It’s tempting to think that gratitude can be generated by doing nice things for your customers. It is a good start, but your customers can become conditioned or easily wooed by someone else with nicer gifts.
Truly the only way to generate sustained gratitude is to discover and foster a shared purpose with your customers, then enable them to share that purpose with others. Shared purpose is not something you do for your customer, but rather with your customer.
A great example of a company pursuing a gratitude strategy is GE. They launched the “Healthymagination” program with a shared purpose of “creating better health for more people.” To deliver on this, in 2012 the company created an outreach program designed to “create an emotional connection” around health. They monitored social media outlets and engaged people talking about health. They didn’t try to sell; they simply expressed appreciation and support. In some cases, they went further, sending personalized gifts as a tangible expression of appreciation aligned to the shared purpose.
The key to success for GE and other companies employing gratitude strategies was the authenticity of the appreciation they showed to their customers. These interactions weren’t transparent and shallow attempts to drive transactions. They were inspired by this well-articulated shared purpose, motivated by a heartful desire to “show appreciation for and to return kindness,” and organized with a well-planned program combining social media, personalization and customer support. And there wasn’t a coupon or loyalty program point anywhere in sight.
If this article has spoken to you and you are wondering how to generate more brand loyalty, consider implementing a gratitude program. Identify the shared purpose that you can work on together with your customer. See where you can express appreciation for their accomplishments toward that shared purpose.
This guest blog is part of a Channel Futures sponsorship.