The power of purpose: driving loyalty in changing times

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ICF Next look at some of the opportunities available to driving customer engagement and most importantly, customer loyalty.

Digital transformation in every major industry means consumers have more options than ever. Switching brands for a better price, a more frictionless process or a shinier product can be done at the drop of a hat, and with competition at an all-time high, the art of connection becomes harder to master.

Hard, but not impossible. The changes accelerating across ecommerce, retail, media, travel and finance don’t just put the expertise of agencies like ours to the test, they also open up opportunities to drive loyalty through the power of technology. With the ability to support more meaningful experiences, we can create new shades of affinity across the entire customer lifecycle – from discovery and activation to retention and engagement.

In the first part of this series, we explored how we’re seeing our work shift, both locally and globally. Brand focus grows in relevance, as many organisations look to align their business with a wider, more altruistic purpose than just profit and sales.

The idea of purpose is key to creating meaningful impact in the consumer space, but also crucial when it comes to loyalty, where sparking an emotional connection is fundamental to achieving long term advocacy. It’s all about seeing loyalty as an outcome, not simply a programme.

Embedding purpose begins with asking the questions that sit at the core of a brand – defining the story, the ambition, and always putting current and future customers at the heart. Increasingly, customers are the number one asset in any organisation – the driving force that carries the brand forward, advocating and promoting, raving and raging on its behalf.

Staying focused on the customer makes it easier to ask the crucial ‘why?’ question when introducing a new product, experience, loyalty program or proposition. What is the commercial, business or brand challenge we’re answering, and how does that apply to businesses and customers?

Clear, open communication that delivers on a brand’s promise in personalised and relevant ways is key to addressing these challenges, enabling brands to capitalise on the ‘emotional economy’ – the way customers’ feelings impact on their behaviour.

Whether it’s implementing improvements in sustainability or looking more closely at core values to identify the most resonant drivers and connectors, organisations must become emotionally intelligent to establish a purpose and make it their unique selling proposition.

A glimpse into the retail sector shows us how changing consumer habits are forcing brands to adapt. High streets and retailers across the UK are feeling the pinch of lower footfall and sales, while growing demand for personalised experiences, in-store innovation and more meaningful content is literally changing the landscape.

Alongside the rise of social discovery, shoppable content and mobile commerce, organisations can now unify purpose across more touchpoints, channels and opportunities than ever, delivering their brand promise through consistent experiences that strengthen emotional connections. Whether it’s recognising valued customers with personalised interactions, offering deals based on unique shopping preferences, or linking loyalty offers to wider brand values, it’s never been clearer that customer engagement starts with purpose.

And it’s not just retail – many other industries are seeing and feeling the impact of the changing consumer landscape. In media, where ever-shorter news cycles, fake news threats and a constant barrage of information dominate, consumers seek transparency, demanding authentic perspectives and real insight in more personalised ways than ever before.

From over the top providers and streaming subscription services to traditional publications, brands must fulfil these expectations at scale to build long-term loyalty and compete in such a crowded marketplace. There have never been so many opportunities to drive belief in organisational purpose, and as customer strategy experts, we’ve seen first-hand that when a company and its colleagues believe in a collective vision, consumer loyalty follows closely behind.

Every day, we help brands unlock their customers’ full potential by tapping into their core reason for being and establishing a purpose that resonates with their feelings and mindsets. On that foundation, we start building belief from the inside out.

And as a proven leader in loyalty technology, we’re uniquely positioned to deliver these end-to-end solutions, from customer consulting and strategy through to the platforms that bring it to life.

With change as the only constant, the power of emotional purpose is only set to get stronger, and by maximising the potential of your customers today and tomorrow in an evolving world, the possibilities of loyalty are brands' for the taking.

Neil Tierney, managing partner at ICF Next, also contributed to this piece.

John Armstrong is the president of ICF Next.

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