What If Ad Agencies Offered Frequent Shopper Cards?

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Look in your wallet. How many loyalty marketing membership cards are in there? Loyalty marketing programs claim over one billion members in the U.S., that's four
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or five per adult. My partner, Steve McKee recently gave a talk at a marketing seminar about loyalty marketing. I think he really shook the group up by asking a simple question:

What happens to the loyalty when the loyalty program stops?

Those loyalty cards in your wallet may represent an emotional tie to a brand, but it's more likely they simply represent a discount coupon. Loyalty is an elusive thing. It's not about saving money, or belonging to an exclusive group as much as it's about faith that a promise will be consistently delivered. Loyalty marketing can be a very misleading thing. Loyalty programs can measure behavior, but not necessarily create equity for a brand in the heart of the consumer. This made me think about loyalty between clients and agencies. It's really no different.

Loyalty is a reciprocal need between agency and client if the relationship is to be long-term. As in any relationship there are misunderstandings and disappointments. As humans we fail one another from time to time. I recently had a vendor make a pretty glaring mistake on a project. We looked bad because of it. The vendor owned up and said they were without excuse except that they were human. They said we would not be charged for the work. I felt that they approached the matter correctly. They impressed me. That evening as I drove home I thought about what their self-punishment would mean to them (lost revenue) and the amount of actual damage that had been caused by their mistake. I decided their self-punishment was a bit extreme. This company is working with us on several projects and has shown the greatest care and enthusiasm. Their prices are extremely competitive. A project they recently completed was a great success. I started to feel that my ire over the mistake had caused them to punish themselves too harshly. The next morning I emailed one of the partners of the firm and told him to charge me for the job. It was the right thing to do.

It's interesting that a very negative experience could result in my respecting the vendor more. Their behavior was to be loyal to me as a long-term customer. My response was to be loyal to them in forgiving the mistake without penalty. It should be everyone's goal as a supplier or a customer to foster loyal relationships. This industry seems to have more negative stories than positive ones on this subject. The adage "no good deed goes unpunished" can be all too true. Despite that truism, there are loyal relationships in this business. The ones we enjoy happen for the same reason that people are loyal to brands, football teams and political parties; It goes beyond what is delivered, it's the attitude with which it's delivered that makes the difference.
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