Selling Better Isn't the Same Thing as Building Loyalty

'Scoring Points' With Customers Isn't a Value in Commerce

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In real life, we use "loyalty" to label benefits that appear undeserved. Dogs greet us at the door when we've been away all day. Friends do things for friends whether they want to or not. We're loyal to our country, irrespective of how we voted.

In business, however, it's a paid transaction.

Whether it's delivered via points, perks or other forms of reward, loyalty in commerce is pure quid pro quo, isn't it? We bookend purchases with incentives in order to move consumers from one buying segment to another: If we give you this, we expect you'll do that.

Yet selling better isn't the same thing as building loyalty. Limit seats available to frequent fliers, and they won't fly so frequently anymore. Discounts for fashion-apparel customers become de rigueur, as tables stacked tall with full-price items attest.

Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan Salem Baskin runs Baskin Associates, a global brand consultancy, and blogs at Dim Bulb.
No matter how common it is to quip that we "score points" with one another, value doesn't emerge from a points spread, just as saying "good dog, good dog" prompts the tail wagging that expresses loyalty but doesn't account for it.

Friends, patriots and shoppers aren't stupid, of course. It's not that they give their loyalty because it's undeserved. They assign value to qualities that we don't necessarily value in the same way.

Truly loyal customers probably don't necessarily add to baskets, trade up, increase frequency or otherwise make marketing ROI dashboards flicker; they may simply be satisfied with their transactions with you, without anybody acknowledging or monetizing those behaviors. They're not loyal to a brand but rather to how a business satisfies them.

Instead of participating in your latest creative or high-tech scheme to pay them off, customers may simply return to you for more business, cost you less in support over time, recommend you to family and friends, and be far more resistant to the snarky creative or high-tech payoff schemes coming out of your competition.

How does your business engender loyalty? I suspect there are two broad components: First, your direct influencers, such as the quality and integrity of your offering and how you support it, and second, the indirect components, such as how you're presented and authenticated in social media and other third-party content.

Marketing can't create or outsource this to a vendor; it has to be a part of your business every time, every way. Consider online retailer Zappos, which spends no money on marketing, per se, but lots of money on a way of conducting business that demonstrates loyalty to its customers.

Emulating such an approach might let us find loyalty in the behaviors of the loyal, whether we think they're deserved or not.

Questions to ask about: Loyalty

ROUTINE: Is it easy to buy from you?
RELIABILITY: How dependable is what you sell?
CONSISTENCY: Are all practices as integrated as your branding?
FORGIVENESS: Why would customers overlook problems?
INVOLVEMENT: Can customers help build your company?
ADVOCACY: What's promotable beyond your marketing?
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