Wednesday 25 February 2009

Lean Forward Loyalty

Just a few years ago the world was a very passive place.

You could sit and watch television – no fast forwarding of the ads! You could go about your day seeing billboards or press ads – noticing them all but not being required to do anything.

Even in the early days of the internet the web was essentially a passive experience - you could browse websites, maybe even dabble in a little e-commerce, but it really was an undemanding experience. Broadband speeds have reflected this expectation with the download speed typically 4 times as quick as the upload speed – they really weren't expecting you to give information, simply to consume it.

Not any more. The world has changed.

Passive doesn't cut it anymore – everything must be active. It comes in all forms, whether its social networking, instant messenger, twitter, mobile internet, mini-web or any other technology, they all want you to do something – to interact. It's now not good enough to simply watch television – you need to interact with the telly – pressing the red button for more information, back stage interviews or re-runs of the weather.

Steve Jobs told MacWorld in 2004 "We don't think that televisions and personal computers are going to merge. We think basically you watch television to turn your brain off, and you work on your computer when you want to turn your brain on". He may still be right to some degree about the TV and computer actually merging – but what has certainly merged is the activity of people using the TV and computer at the same time. People are in essence making the passive active.

This change has been called "Lean Forward" media, contrasting the passive nature of "lean back" media which didn't really require much from you other than sitting in a chair.

However, it's no coincidence that the top 3 website are lean forward experiences – sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter – people like to interact, to integrate and interrogate. As technology allows this more and more then people will take advantage of it in ever greater numbers.

This has implications though for brands.

As consumers increasingly expect a lean forward experience they will expect brands to lead the way. It's not unusual within customer services to have service levels of answering a call in 3 rings, but answering an email in 24 hours – if you even get a response!

To the lean forward generation 24 hours is an eternity.

If a consumer can interact via their many channels (and it's not unusual to find me on email, Skype, twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn within a single hour), you can bet that the longer you take to answer a query the more time they'll have to spread their dissatisfaction.

Lean Forward media works both ways – it provides an active and open channel to both create positive engagement and to fuel negative reaction. Only last week we found a negative tweet about a loyalty programme which linked to a negative blog which had been written 6 weeks ago. Who was checking the blogs for feedback? Who was checking twitter for comments?

It begs the question…. Are you listening?

If you don't make it easy for consumers to talk to you on the channels they want to use, they will simply use those channels to talk to your customers.

The great thing about this shift to Lean Forward media though is that it also provides brands with ways of creating increased engagement and building stronger relationships.

Building relationships and engagement is typically the role of a loyalty programme, but this has previously been a passive experience – apart from the initial enrolment, the interaction tended to centre around a semi-regular statement and an occasionally card swipe. If you were lucky, the really "clever" programmes might notice when you stopped transacting and ping you a DM piece to re-activate you.

Things have moved on.

Programmes now need to engage customers today and continue to engage them tomorrow. Operators are beginning to integrate Lean Forward concepts like social media, allowing feedback between customers to exchange views or rate partners and rewards. The butter company Lurpak has a site entitled "In search of good food" which allows consumers to interact around all things food in the context of the brand. This isn't another "me to" corporate site – pumping out product listings and CSR policies. It's an attempt to create an interaction between their customers and potential customers – facilitated by the brand.

Brands also realise they need to create a buzz, a reason to discuss and interact. Walkers Crisps have been doing this very successfully over the last year or so. Beginning with their Brit Trips promotion which created an opportunity for customers to register, log on-pack codes and redeem for days out. They then seamlessly moved on to their "Do us a flavour" promotion which asked customers to interact online to recommend new flavours - with the winner getting a percentage of any subsequent sales. Moving the interaction from online to offline they have gone on to manufacture the 6 finalist flavours which you can now buy in-store. Back from offline to online you can vote for your favourite flavour – via mobile web, SMS, web, Facebook or email – almost all the channels covered!

This Lean Forward approach to loyalty sets apart the active brands from the passive.

At Carlson Marketing we are wrapping the interactivity of lean forward media into the longevity of loyalty marketing - allowing brands to start creating truly engaging and exciting programmes – essentially creating Lean Forward Loyalty.