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Think BR: The social loyalty revolution

It's more important than ever that brands give their fans reasons to remain loyal, writes Tom Huxtable, CMO, EngageSciences.

Tom Huxtable, CMO, EngageSciences

Tom Huxtable, CMO, EngageSciences

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Smart brands already gather customer behaviour data from Facebook - the sharing, liking and, for the more sophisticated ones, referring behaviour that companies want - plus of course, they offer incentives to encourage people to do these things. 

These rewards systems are no doubt effective but true loyalty demands a longer term, growing and evolving relationship.

Savvy consumers understand the deal, and will like a brand for a short term gain without any real interest in proper, sustained involvement with brands.

If we accept that often a brand’s fans don’t ‘mean it’, then the data accumulated from this conduct may not actually represent true insight into fan behaviour.

What’s needed is a radical rethink of how brands engage with customers in social on a long term basis.

The most sophisticated social brands have already developed long term social marketing programmes consisting of a blend of promotions, content and interaction delivering a multitude of reasons why consumers should - and often do - continue to engage.

But, and it’s a big but, if brands are to maximise social engagement with consumers, then they need to learn from the offline world - from the best rewards schemes and customer engagement models. 

Supermarkets and, in particular, airlines, have been well ahead of the game in terms of tracking, analysing and rewarding behaviour. Schemes and models more commonly known as loyalty programmes.

It’s hardly news that fans can be ‘capricious, disloyal and disinterested’. If we don’t offer them good reasons to stay loyal, they’re not going to be, it’s as simple as that.

However, if the engagement or relationship is meaningful and long term, and the rewards are relevant and can be built upon, then consumers will become true brand champions - they won’t just like and refer, they’ll talk about you on Facebook, recommend you on Twitter, and talk about you positively to their friends. 

More importantly, they’ll follow this through by giving the brand more of their business. This kind of endorsement and loyalty from true fans is manifestly more valuable than the chain letter approach of most current ‘fan’ behaviour.

One smart move is learning from the experts such as airlines, who typically have different levels of reward depending on how often you fly or purchase from their partners.

Competitive sectors such as these have known for some time that a tiered system of rewards and incentives works because it rewards you at whatever level you are at and, more importantly, it encourages you to spend more, to move up further to enhanced rewards.

A social reworking of the frequent flyer type system could fundamentally change brands’ approach to fans and incentives.

A simple model that easily translates, the benefits are self-evident - the more you use/interact with the brand, the more rewards you get. This model has the additional benefit of being both proven and one that consumers understand.

With a trackable set of behaviours brands will be able to build loyalty programmes that identify which tier the fan is, serve them content, offers, exclusives, discounts and promotions based on their tier. They will also be able to see what they could get access to if they were in the higher tier.

This means that brands have an opportunity to launch social loyalty schemes that mirror what they already do offline through email and costly traditional advertising. 

Crucially, brands will be able to amplify their schemes far more effectively than normal as their ‘fans’ are both the consumer and the media.

Up to now, loyalty has generally been a closed, exclusive, one to one relationship, meaning brands have had to use expensive broadcast and print media to make people aware of their loyalty programmes and what they offer.

But now brands can reward their true brand advocates in a public, motivating manner rather than using closed channels. 

For brands, it’s more important than ever to reward their fans and offer compelling reasons for the ‘capricious, disloyal and disinterested’ to become committed, loyal and interested.

As the author Joyce Maynard said: "A person who deserves my loyalty receives it." Surely the same applies to brands?

Tom Huxtable, CMO, EngageSciences

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