THE BLOG

Finding Your Way to Loyalty

10/11/2011 09:54 am ET | Updated Dec 11, 2011

Acquisition and retention, in a variety of forms, have been of primary consideration to marketers since the dawn of sales. How do we acquire new purchasers, and how do we keep them purchasing our product/service over their lifetimes? Maybe even for generations to come?

Loyalty takes many forms, and can be as brief as a repeat purchase and as lengthy as a lifetime. Brand loyalty with emotionally driven products/services says something about the shopper and the consumer. But, in all honesty, many brands do not have an overwhelming emotional tie for consumers and must fight to meet the wants, needs, and/or desires of the shopper on a consistent basis.

Let's say we've acquired a new purchaser. How do we bring Suzie Shopper back after her initial purchase? If she is impressed by the quality of the product and/or the price vs. value proposition vs. the competition, she will return. Maybe it's a decision made not only in relationship to the product, but one of customer service. L.L. Bean has made its mark with loyal shoppers by offering exception customer service, along great quality products at reasonable prices. As marketers, we must determine what is most important to shoppers, outline the hierarchy of their weights in the consumers' mindsets, and deliver on those wants, needs, and desires better than our competition if we hope to grow a loyal following.

"Continuity" programs have helped encourage loyalty since even before the advent of S & H green stamps. What added value can you deliver to a shopper at purchase that will drive them to "bounce back" to buy your product again? In the case of "Play Monopoly at McDonald's", the answer is two-fold. In the instant win portion of the game, consumers win a free items redeemable on their next visits, driving the potential for an additional future purchases. In the collect and win portion, McDonald's brings consumers back over a four week period by offering big prizes for those who collect sets of winning game pieces. The hope is that not only will the consumers be excited enough to visit for their chance to win, but that they will begin to form a loyal habit during the time period. (By the types of food prizes distributed, the promotion also delivers a great platform for sampling and driving certain day parts, such as breakfast.)

As we've learned through programs such as Yoplait Pink Lids, the cause-related continuity program benefitting the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, women in particular are motivated by the opportunity to help others. Yoplait, arguably, was just another yogurt choice on the shelf before the company's foray into the fight against breast cancer. The tie-in increased trial, and millions found they enjoyed the product, creating loyalty. Shopper Moms continued to purchase the product, collect the lids and do their parts to help the cause.

Managing loyalty expectations is sometimes the most difficult piece of the puzzle for marketers. If you have a product such as toilet bowl cleaner, you can't expect that shoppers will repeat purchase it every week. Executing a loyalty program whereby shoppers receive a reward after their 5th purchase in a month (or getting them to buy the 10-product value pack) would be unrealistic. One must understand the normal purchase cycle, goal set just above that benchmark, and market accordingly.

The retail environment is also crucial to shopper loyalty. If your product is not on the shelf, if it's not supported by retailers, if it creativity doesn't break through the clutter of thousands of competing messages, it won't matter how great of a product it is. Partnership with those in charge of the point of biggest impact -- the point of purchase -- will make or break any brand's attempt at acquisition and retention. By tailoring marketing strategies to key retailers, including an explanation of how your approach will benefit their shoppers, brand managers can spend their marketing dollars more efficiently and effectively.

One aspect of shopper engagement that has gained a great deal of steam in recent years is CRM, or Customer Relationship Management. Essentially, it is a process that involves technology, marketing and sales to keep existing customers, attract new ones and bring former customers back into the fold. As with most things these days, we want to automate processes and develop strategies and put together flow charts and brew statistics to figure out the best way to reach potential, existing and former purchasers. And yes, CRM plans for successful marketing and sales are extremely important. However, we must first simply define the shoppers' wants, needs, and desires, and figure out how our product or service can rise to meet them.

At the end of the shopping day, one simple notion stands above all others: you must meet the wants, needs, and/or desires of your shopper and her consumers if you want to cultivate loyalty. Without that shopper-centric approach, you'll never reach your full sales potential.