A Bribe Is Not a Relationship

In the early ’90s the word “interactive” got hijacked to mean any kind of marketing on the Internet. (How ironic since shopping on the Internet was not very interactive in those days.) Long before that, the word “brand” got misrepresented as something companies do to their customers, when in reality it is something customers do to companies.

Now I want to rant about how the word “loyalty” has been kidnapped. Loyalty has been dislocated from its true meaning and is now used to describe programs and promotions, usually supported by sophisticated software, that encourage customers to buy from a company multiple times.

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with multiple purchases, but return visits don’t necessarily correlate with true, meaningful loyalty. This kind of tit-for-tat transactional loyalty can be fleeting. Purchase intent one week doesn’t automatically lead to purchase intent the next week, if a competitor offers a better sale price or promotion. This is the kind of loyalty that can evaporate quickly when another company offers better incentives.

The sturdiest, most indelible loyalty is that which is built from a relationship, and not from bribery. When a customer’s frame of reference is her long-standing, ongoing conversation with a company, and not the gamesmanship of which company is offering the best rewards this month, she will not be easily seduced by a slightly better offer.

Can you use points programs, punch cards and repeat purchase incentives in your efforts to create true loyalty? Sure, but only if these promotions happen in the context of relationship-building encounters with those customers. And, what’s most interesting, if you can build true “We” relationships with customers, you may not need to invest as many of your resources in these programs. Your customers will have more powerful reasons to keep coming back.

So, what’s happening in your company? Are you creating solid, relationship-based loyalty, or are you continually wooing your customers with the latest new and improved, bigger and bolder, see-if- our-competitors-can-top-this promotion?

(Related question: Are loyalty promotions becoming a commodity?)

Steve Yastrow posted this on September 16, 2008, in Marketing.
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