The Fickleness of Brand Loyalty

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As a longstanding Bloomingdales “Loyalist” (enrolled in their loyalty program), I thought I was being recognized for my years of brand dedication, not to mention financial commitment. It was also my card of choice for everyday purchases. So wasn’t this program designed to reward my tenure as a brand devotee as well as my contributions to building the value of the Bloomingdales brand?

Wasn’t this relationship a two-way street.  I promoted “Loyalist”, referred friends and family, frequented events, engaged socially, and participated in online promotions. I was even on a first name basis with several sales associates. And for my years of loyalty, I was rewarded with key benefits – one of which was unlimited complimentary gift-wrap. Now this may not sound important, but to me it provided much needed relief from this dreaded chore. Always time starved, this extra was meaningful to me.

I soon learned that ‘brand loyalty’ was one sided. After a visit to ‘my’ store to buy some early holiday gifts, my wonderful sales associate offered to wrap my gifts – free of charge of course – ready for pick-up. Pressed for time yet again, Bloomies pulled through. However, my bubble was soon burst after I learned from a call to customer service, “as one of their most valued customers”, that I no longer qualified for ‘top of the list’ (their term, not mine) loyalist status.

Without being notified, my spending over the course of this year at Bloomies was not enough to maintain my premier card and benefits. So Bloomies loyalty to me only really amounted to me spending enough money each year – despite my many YEARS of brand loyalty (and my first year of spending under this threshold).  And I learned about my ‘demotion’ in status through a random call on an unrelated inquiry. I felt let down. Used. Like I’d been dumped.

So what can brand marketers learn from this experience?

1. You know how hard it is to build brand loyalty, let alone advocacy. You fight this fight every day. So don’t destroy it through one short-sighted action, or inaction for that matter. We’re your most precious assets and some of us, like me, are (were) your biggest brand advocates.

2. Brand loyalty should be recognized beyond simple spending levels. There are many other dimensions that constitute value to an organization (like our advocacy and engagement), and these should be factored into the loyalty equation.

3. Brands talk about the importance of building relationships. On being on a path with customers of increasing co-involvement and value-building – with the end goal of true engagement. We refer to this as Customer Engagement Trajectory. But this needs to be a two-way street.

A note to healthcare marketers. It seems healthcare practices and providers can take a page out of the retailing ‘brand loyalty’ handbook (the good parts) and start to think of customers (and patients) as brand ambassadors with the power to advocate for your brand. Further, why not establish a recognition and reward program to let your patients know that you genuinely appreciate their business, their referrals, their family’s devotion…and more.

With today’s growing use of CRM (customer relationship management) in healthcare, the foundation is there to learn more about your customers, personalize what you offer them, and recognize them for their continued contribution to your organization in the form of ongoing and continued business. But remember, loyalty – and true engagement (with a stronger correlation to ROI, revenue and profitability) is a two way street!

Randi Brody

As EVP and Partner at Trajectory, Randi keeps everyone and everything focused on the one thing that matters most – delivering results for clients (which she understands first-hand, following senior leadership positions at Citibank and CIT Group). If she was a cartoon character, she'd be Road Runner, as she covers more ground (literally as she is a big runner) and accomplishes more things in one day than most of us are able.

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