Is brand loyalty dead?

This is not a big piece about how brands generate love and followers. This is mostly thinking about how loyalty used to be something we thought of in very simple terms and now it’s not that anymore. Or it cannot be.

Think back to 5–8 years ago. We were all aware that some products had a degree of loyalty which was uncanny, and we always assumed that was due to very measurable things like excellent design, great experiences, comms, etc. That is no longer the case. Apple is the simplest example, but so are Vans, Nike, Tiffany’s. They’re all bleeding loyalists. Mostly because their once one-of-a-kind experiences and design are converging. The insane speed at which we have been taught to expect innovation/improvement is getting in the way of actual perception of value. We were loyal because we felt there was value. Now it’s hard to perceive value anymore, so it’s hard to be loyal.

But the at same time, there was the operational thinking around loyalty encapsulated in “loyalty cards” and “loyalty programmes”. That was mostly a simple way of adding up the times you spent money with a specific brand, and turn that into an-always-bemusing points system which then returned something to you. This is still alive and well and as flawed as always because something else has changed.

I will explain, but first an anecdote: I buy from Sainsbury’s every day. I kid you not. Everyday, every single day. My daily spend with them is between 4 to 10 pounds. Every-single-mother-effing-day. I use my Nectar card every time and last October I did a test. I started trying to redeem my points with some regularity to evaluate the actual value my loyalty was bringing me. I am sure someone has made a learned calculation of points systems somewhere, but my experience was that I started trying to redeem in October and was only able to redeem this January. And the amount? 2 pounds. I had paid Sainsbury’s 4–10 pounds every day for 3 months and they gave me 2 pounds back.

I was clearly frustrated but soon realised it’s not about the money, though. For me it was about the frustration of understanding there is no value in the exchange. None. My continued presence was not well evaluated and was rewarded in a manner which had zero value to me.

I thought long and hard about whether this applies only to people like me. I am comfortable and a bit of a “millennial”. But it does not. The value-value, how much they give back, would be little for any other person. The perceived value of the exchange (loyalty for reward) is also little.

So how, then, are we making loyalty matter?

Byron Sharp says we should stop trying to do it altogether, because it’s not true that retention is easier than recruitment. It’s harder. So rewarding loyalty does not make sense for companies.

Loyalty has lost its meaning, it’s hard to do in a meaningful way and it doesn’t event pay off. Is it dead?

Digital Strategist. The Internet will save the world (pending verification). Views expressed here are my own/should not be construed as coming from my employer.

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