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Loyal customers are like gold dust. While this – and the fact that it costs five times as much to attract a new customer as it does to retain an existing one – is probably unsurprising to brands, the figure cannot be ignored when consumer spending is at a three-year low.
Brands are under pressure across the board and the resulting price wars have made consumers fickle. When you consider that 67% of millennials will spend more with brands they love compared with older shoppers, it’s no wonder that building and maintaining loyalty is a persistent challenge and priority for marketers.
There’s no secret formula to building loyalty. The truth is that the tactics that brands deploy must evolve with consumers in order to keep pace. Consumers now believe that brands should earn their loyalty more than ever and, one thing’s for certain, it’s about so much more than simply collecting points. From Harvey Nichols reshaping loyalty in the digital age to multi-brand titans Nectar and American Express, brands across the board need to be refocusing to deliver more instantaneous rewards and greater utility for consumers.
Brand partnership – building loyalty
Building multiple partnerships is a part of many brands’ marketing strategies. Used in the right way, they can not only boost sales and awareness, but also help build a loyal community of consumers. The key is to think beyond the obvious, providing bonuses and experiences that will keep consumers coming back for more. Take travel brands, which should think about the holiday experience as a whole and choose to partner with retailers and brands such alcohol, sunglasses or music to offer exclusive benefits that enhance a consumer’s time away.
British Airways has cottoned on to this, jumping into bed with The White Company to combat insomnia in the sky and provide a prime example of how enhancing experience can boost loyalty. The BA first class experience has been subject to increased competition in recent years, putting ratings and sales into decline. The new exceptional bedding drives loyalty without physical rewards. Larger pillows, blankets with satin trim, a duvet and padded mattress cover will be gradually rolled out across British Airways’ other long-haul routes, and the subtle ‘nice to have’ creates a homelier experience on board and will drive customers to book more with BA.
Identifying complimentary categories adds additional faces to your brand, keeping your partnership strategy ahead of the curve and allowing it triumph in the loyalty battle. It’s something that disruptive travel businesses like Uber, Airbnb (see video below) and Lyft are doing well.
Manchester United and Uber recently announced a new global partnership, creating a dedicated ‘Uber zone’ at Old Trafford to help fans arrive and leave the stadium on match days. Over the coming months, Uber will also enable fans around the world to connect with the club through a number of experiences, including behind-the-scenes content for customers and drivers in over 30 countries. This is a prime example of a strategic partnership. Clearly it will enhance the experience of the football club’s fan base. From Uber’s point of view, access to the global footprint of the club, including opportunities to access the social media assets, is a huge incentive.
If experience is key to customer loyalty and retention, how do brands go above and beyond to give digitally-native consumers, who expect instant gratification, what they want and keep them coming back for more?
Regenerating – going back to basics
Brand partnerships are derived from promotional marketing, and on-pack promotions are their simplest form. This doesn’t mean this strand is any less effective, as on-pack promotions have evolved greatly since their conception. But getting this right takes a nuanced approach, which means effective alignment with business growth priorities and a consolidated targeting strategy to approach the right contacts.
Lager company Tennent’s on-pack promotion with holiday site Lastminute.com this summer shows how thinking beyond the obvious can maximise reach and win loyal customers through experience – the competition offered consumers the chance to win one of 20 lastminute.com holidays worth £2,000.
UK adventure park, Thorpe Park’s partnerships with like-minded brands are a great example of how to do this well in the leisure sector. Making customers feel part of a privileged and valued community, while giving them an added X factor compels them to return. This might seem like an overwhelming prospect, so it could be helpful to outsource the leg-work to specialist services that will help introduce you to other brands where there is a qualified reason for partnership.
Data – the key to brand immortality
The use of consumer data is now crucial in the marketing landscape. Driven by ROI and analytics, marketers long for pools of data that will expand the reach of their brand in a targeted way. Beyond offering exclusive and unexpected customer experience, partnerships also give brands access to a wider set of customer data that will drive loyalty by association. Partnering with a relevant brand that shares a common agenda will ensure that the assets a marketer has at their fingertips are both usable and valuable.
Let’s get digital
The success of loyalty programmes varies dramatically. For instance, physical cards are more popular with women (55%); 18-24-year-olds strongly prefer online apps to access offers (42%), while over-65s are less inclined to follow suit (8%). Making sure that your loyalty programme reflects the target demographics that you are trying to access is paramount.
We know from our work with LastMinute.com that this is no mean feat. The dot com giant has prioritised a targeted brand partnerships strategy to ensure that it continues to surprise, delight and satisfy the needs of its existing client base, while bringing a younger demographic into the fold.
Virgin Red is the benchmark against which to measure the use of digital in a loyalty programme. Virgin Red rewards are not only determined via customer spend, but also around how ‘Virgin’ customers are, which can be measured through quizzes, games and competitions hosted on the app.
Consumers engaged through CRM and credible popularity on social media can also be useful to a brand partner, keeping one eye on how a collaborative marketing campaign can leverage multiple channels and convert consumers. These partnerships can be highly lucrative, but it is now more than just a first deal. Working together collaboratively to solve long-standing marketing challenges is the key to putting a smile back on the customer’s face and boosting loyalty.
The loyalty battle
Boosting loyalty is a real by-product of authentic and considered partnerships. However, an holistic, integrated approach which combines data, digital and on-pack methods will ensure that brands gain the most cut-through and go from strength to strength. A truly strategic brand partnership will increase overall engagement and, as a result, keep consumers coming back for more by offering new, exclusive experiences that enhance the customer experience. For time-strapped marketing teams, although boosting brand loyalty is a priority, setting up and maintaining an effective brand partnership programme can seem daunting. Engaging an expert external facilitator will ensure you partner with brands that add real value.
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