Commitment - the holy grail of relationships. It’s what Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City finally got from Mr. Big and what Jennifer Aniston could never quite achieve with Brad Pitt. It’s also increasingly what savvy marketers hope to foster with programs that eschew loyalty in favor of solutions that create committed customers.
Conventional rewards programs have done a great job of rewarding behavior – you spend $1 and in return get a point that can be redeemed at some future point in time. These programs have trained a whole bevy of customers who are now programmed to expect points or cash back each time they swipe their card.
But have these programs trained these same customers to be committed? With consumers toting around an average of 6 credit/debit cards and multiple airline, hotel and retailer loyalty program cards, it seems really hard to make that case. It’s also why I scratched my head when Starbucks announced its “loyalty” program a few weeks back. Customers were (many still are) committed to Starbucks for reasons that had nothing to do with getting points or free shots of syrup in their afternoon Frappaccino. The experience of Starbucks is what kept their customers loyal. That experience began to change when they started to offer promotions and started incorporating culture into their coffee, i.e. movie and cd sales. After a while, customers began to view Starbucks as just another place to get a cup of coffee and sales began to slump. The current efforts to revive sales may make the accountants happy, but it may not be enough to regain the committed customers who felt betrayed by the brand that once defined their coffee drinking experience.
So perhaps rather than focusing on the next great rewards scheme, marketers might want to shift their thinking towards programs that deliver commitment since committed customers will go out of their way to find places where their brand is available, will resist competitor’s appeals and continue to use the brand without a whole lot of coaxing (as in you don’t have to reward them with points to get them to use your product).
Rewards and loyalty are unfortunately used almost interchangeably today to define efforts to attract and retain customers. It explains why many marketers remain obsessed with programs that reward transactional behavior rather than driving commitment to the brand. The latter requires an understanding of why people make brand choices and how those brands meet both the real and perceived needs of the customer. I am not saying that getting committed customers doesn’t require some work and perhaps even some incentives along the way to demonstrate your appreciation for their affection. (Hey, what girl doesn’t want flowers every now and then from her beau?) But the relationship with the customer must transcend the Pavlovian behavior generated by many of today’s schemes. Commitment is based on something deeper, more substantial and less tenuous than something defined by points (that often go unredeemed).
Commitment is also a two way street – listening, learning and improving. Building a program that elicits and then rewards those sorts of interactions between brands and customers takes work. But so does any relationship worth having for the long term. A word to the wise (Jen are you listening?) … “free” doesn’t always translate into commitment, and in some cases, only strings the relationship along (and probably very expensively at that) until the next “new and improved” free thing comes along. So, let’s give a little credit to consumers, you can’t create commitment with free refills and you can’t force commitment in a relationship – neither ever works out long term.
Print This Post Email This Post
Filed Under: consumers, Consumer Loyalty, Economics