Why isn’t loyalty trendy?

Digital transformation. Customer experience. Artificial intelligence.

Now those are trendy marketing buzzwords. With each hot topic, latest analyst report, most recent business magazine article, or the buzzword-du-jour, loyalty takes a temporary hit as “yesterday’s news”, yet somehow the investment in loyalty manages to rally, year-over-year with double-digit growth.

The big trends clogging up everyone’s LinkedIn feed these days are as follows:

  • Digital transformation. A fancy way of saying any or all the following: re-prioritize, catch up, clean up, gap-fill or break down silos. Any or all this process is necessary for any organization that has gone through growth, while often ignoring the necessary change management or; has invested in sophisticated technology in some areas but using spreadsheets in others. No company, big or small, is exempt from this situation—the threat of competition, the speed of change, the C2B demand: the struggle is real.
  • Customer experience is a buttoned-up way of saying make the messaging and engagement experience on all channels streamlined and consistent. It is also about making it easy for someone to do business with you and get rid of the friction. So, you’ve got 3 different systems and a point of sale that don’t work together. You have integration issues and a slew of workarounds. Your ecomm checkout system is a clunky process with carts being abandoned; your website isn’t mobile-optimized etc. You get the point.
  • Artificial Intelligence has actually been around since the 50’s although it has advanced more in the last 5 years than it has in the previous 65 years. It still requires humans to ‘tag’ the right information for effective machine learning. And, some of the more successful and recent A.I. efforts encourage collaboration between people and the system. A.I. can help make lots of things easier, better and more relevant—but machines still don’t ‘know why’. A.I. automates some things and complicates others. Humans are still a critical factor in A.I. success.

These focus-areas and how you approach them depends on how you view your customers, and frankly where you are in your brand maturity. As a consumer, an early adopter and a Xennial (that term for a Gen X/on-the-cusp Millennial because yes, some of us are true hybrids), there’s nothing more exciting than advancements in technology, especially when it involves convenience or simplifying the ability to do business with a brand.

Loyalty is a result.

You can’t buy it like a license, a package or a piece of technology. There is no instant gratification or tangible, latest and greatest, shiny object ‘thing’ that you get, right now. You have to work at it. You have to listen to your customers. You have to use technology tools to gain insight into what your customers are trying to tell you, and then act on that information.

While people are loyal for different reasons, at the core, every form of loyalty is built on a relationship. Loyalty becomes tangible when the value of the relationship becomes visible through reciprocal action. Loyalty (as a result) takes time, effort, work and critical thinking on an ongoing basis. It’s an evolution.

Loyalty involves emotion and state of mind. The trendy marketing buzzwords and tactics we have seen over the last several decades (technology, promotional currencies, mobile devices or marketing spin) are little more than the search for the reason consumers are loyal to a brand. The shiny objects aren’t real, they are experiments of marketers and technologists testing theories and seeking the holy grail. As each experiment comes to its conclusion, we get the results and learn that once again, we haven’t found a silver bullet for customer loyalty. Maybe we do get some results, but typically they are fleeting or only affect a portion of our consumers.

As you read about the next “latest-and greatest” trend and ponder your next tactic, consider how it does or doesn’t fit with who you are, and your brand strategy. As you focus on the strategic application of the tools available to build your brand value and build trust with the consumer, you are telling the customer, through your actions, that you care. Like all good relationships—there will always be growth and change, which means you need to keep up.