Monday 28 May 2012

Keeping your loyalty star rising

Starsinthesky"If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years how man would marvel and stare" - Emerson

This is an interesting observation from the eminent US poet, lecturer and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson and was written back in 1836 in his essay Nature.

It is though still as relevant an observation nearly 200 years later.

When we first see something it gets more pleasing and likeable the more we see it.  Known as the familiarity principle, it is something advertisers leverage when they constantly expose us to their advertisements across ever increasing channels.

These adverts leverage the mere-expore effect that essentially states that repeated exposure to something increases perceptual fluency which is the ease with which each subsequent stimulus can be processed.  This then follows with the branded goods we go on to purchase and is the reason we simply pickup the same brand repeatedly - perceptual fluency makes it easy -  we don't have to think about it.

However, this only works to a point. In the research paper "What's in a name? Reputation Building and Corporate Strategy", they showed that "the higher a firms visibility per unit of sales [...], the worse it's reputation. ", even when the exposure is mostly positive.

As the saying goes, familiarity really does tend to breed contempt.

This is obviously interesting (and has implications) for above the line marketing, but how does it impact below the line marketing?
  • If every one is doing daily deals, does anyone really care anymore?
  • If every store has a sale, are we excited anymore?
  • If every day we receive another offer, do we read them anymore?
  • If every activity has points attached, do we collect them anymore?
Groupon was is a great example.  It was new, engaging and different and it took customers, merchants and the market by storm.

Google offered to buy them for $6bn and recent "valuations" suggested $30bn.  But then competitors jumped in - lots - including retail behemoth Amazon.  With reports suggesting though that Amazon is only selling a handful of deals, 80% of subscribers to deal sites never buy a deal and merchants running away in droves, this would appear to be a sector who's star has already peaked.

Over exposure of both the offers and the approach has meant customers are starting to tune out.

In a similar way with loyalty, if every activity is "sprinkled" with points, there is a danger of points fatigue and ultimately ambivalence towards the points.  Using points on all activities, especially those not related to any monetary exchange can devalue the points and make them appear worthless.

Brent Houlden, leader of Deloitte's Retail Practice in Canada highlights this when he says:-
"...Point collecting is losing its lustre... Loyalty programs tend to go stale over time. If you want to continue engaging customers, you need to continuously reinvent your program"
In a recent McKinsey iConsumer survey where consumers were asked why they had posted online comments / reviews - something loyalty programmes are keen to encourage - only 6% said it was to gain points.  On the other hand, almost 40% did it because they liked it or liked helping others.

This is something a well designed loyalty programme can also foster and encourage.  In a blog entitled "Loyalty: More than Just Points" it discussed how Starwood Hotels’ emphasis on guest service interactions are the key to producing loyalty saying:-
"It is telling that Starwood, so tightly branded by its loyalty points program, places such emphasis on service interactions as the first component of guest loyalty.  And it is that passionate loyalty, Starwood’s “Loyalty Beyond Reason” that inspires guests to share their experiences, recommend properties to their friends, and rebook."
This is not to say points programmes in themselves have a problem, it's just that in a competitive market where almost every retailer, branded product or hotel chain has a loyalty programme  customers will simply become ambivalent to them.  The programmes and their mechanics have become familiar and the danger is that this ultimately leads to contempt and thus consumers tuning out.

In order to attract, engage and retain customers you need to do more to make programmes standout and continue to stand out so as to make people "marvel and stare".


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