When building brand loyalty, just listen

Love is patient, love is kind, but brand love is monetizable, and the first step to building brand love is engendering customer loyalty.

In an option-heavy world, differentiating between loyalty and heavy-category spending can be tricky. Cardlytics CMO Dani Cushion led a panel at Advertising Week New York to outline the steps brands can take to not only accurately measure loyalty, but to also curate experiences and insights that can further drive positive relationships with consumers.

As a data and analytics platform that runs rewards programs for banks, Cardlytics can see a consumer’s entire purchase history across brands and categories, which helps eliminate the blind spots preventing brands from gauging true loyalty.

Having a holistic view of consumer spend is a start, but hearing what consumers like – and, more importantly, dislike – is what drives sustained brand love.

“The minute we have a member getting ambivalent about us, I begin to worry,” said Kenneth Keith, chief brand officer at Orangethory Fitness. “What we try to do is design a loyalty program that gives them the two things they’ve asked for very clearly. They want experiences that are going to be elevated, and they want to be noticed in a way that’s personalized and motivates them.”

Ambivalence can easily snowball into distrust. Brands that catch customers before that downward slide have their ears to the ground.

“No matter how much data you look at, no matter how many surveys you do of your customers,” said Joshua Stein, director of financial partnerships at Hilton, “there’s no replacing you actually going to talk to your customers yourself. Especially larger companies, it’s very easy to sit in your office and just look at reports.”

Having a genuine, individual relationship with customers is paramount, especially in today’s data-driven world where customers can grow increasingly frustrated by poorly targeted messaging – particularly after sharing their information and data on their purchase habits. According to Julie Sukosd, Under Armour’s senior manager of global CRM, customers can spot a fake a mile away.

In order to foster personal connections that last a lifetime, Sukosd suggested that brands embrace the role of “host” and think of customers like guests at their party. She said that Under Armour strives to treat its shoppers like friends by taking the time to understand what they want, what they like and what they’re trying to achieve and by giving them the support they need to reach these goals.

Consumers are constantly sharing across different platforms. Whether it’s direct customer feedback or referrals, brands can occupy different spaces to pick up on trends and innovate from there.

Keith, for example, called social media a “truth serum” that allows customers to “tattle” on behalf of his network, helping spur positive growth.

Centering campaigns around the customer and adapting your brand to their evolving desires are those short-term wins that bring long-term gains, said Sukosd. Under Armour has found data collection to be a critical part of this process, resulting in top-selling products like legwear featuring the SpeedPocket that holds your phone during a run.

Projecting these long-term gains isn’t always quantifiable, but that shouldn’t necessarily deter investment. “There’s a real risk to all of us marketers,” said Stein, “which is the only thing we end up funding are rational, ROI-based investments, but yet decision making is still relatively emotional.”

It’s about building a narrative and using that to tell the story behind your strategy. Keith cautioned that too much crude data can be an impediment and that actionable insights are often necessary to convert occasional customers into lifelong supporters.

The panel agreed that staying ahead of the curve will always be a challenge, and simply reacting to data points to drive loyalty is too one-dimensional. Data must be turned into insights, and those insights should be used to better understand what actually meets your customer’s needs. Brands that know the customer better than they know themselves are the ones that understand why building brand love must come with a personal touch.

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