If a loyalty programme is the answer, what’s your question?

This article originally appeared in The Drum on August 30, 2018

Psychologist Abraham Maslow, famous for his Hierarchy of Need model, had a talent for coining cracking metaphors. “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” - that was one of his best. The insight was simple: when human beings see that a particular tool works well in one situation, they try using it to fix every problem they encounter. He described it as a cognitive bias towards the familiar. And it’s a very common tendency among marketers.

The guys at Innocent use gee-shucks messaging on their packaging? We definitely need some on our range of fruit-based beverages. Three’s TV campaign stars a feisty Shetland Pony? Why don’t we have a clever little dancing animal too? Amazon’s home page looks like this? Hey, so should ours.

A bias to the familiar can be fine. I’d go further, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with outrageous plagiarism. But only as long as it’s intelligent plagiarism. Which means first doing the hard work to fully understand your business’s unique challenges and opportunities, then imagining the options you have to solve them. Only then should you leap to use other people’s thinking as a short-cut to your own solution.

The problem is that many marketing decisions seem to be made in response to requests such as “I want something exactly like my competitor has” rather than “I want what something that exactly fits my business needs”.

The laws of loyalty

When it comes to loyalty marketing, where programmes have become ubiquitous in just about every consumer sector, this is especially true. Just because a particular loyalty programme scheme or proposition works well for a competitor or company you aspire to, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. In fact, who’s to say it works well at all? The allure of a shiny new programme or the gravitas of a tenured and well-known scheme in the market is not a guarantee of its success. Further reason to fully investigate your unique customer challenges.

And let’s be clear. This isn’t about completely reinventing the wheel. It’s not about ignoring what is known to work well and refusing to acknowledge best practices, benchmarks, tactics or frameworks for your industry or your competitive set. It’s also not about chasing a proposition or concept that is so far out in left field that it fails to resonate with your customers or drive your business forward.

It’s about creating the right mix of hard working strategies and fresh thinking to address your customers’ evolving expectations and needs in ways that build brand love and foster loyalty while delivering to the bottom line. It’s about being able to successfully navigate through the “sea of sameness” and cutting through the noise to deliver real value to your customer and living up to your brand promise.

Hammer time?

So when we see a me-too loyalty proposition being launched by yet another brand, the thought occurs: did they fully investigate all the possible options and ask themselves the right questions before arriving at that very familiar answer? Or did they just borrow Mr Maslow’s hammer?

Questions like:

  • What choices do we most want to influence?
  • Which behaviours is it most important to reward?
  • What benefits will our customers most value from us?
  • What do they expect from us?
  • How will we create an experience that reinforces our brand values?
  • Will this give us a competitive advantage?
  • How do we ensure it will deliver incremental, measurable and sustainable value to our business?

If you’re a marketer, when you ask tough questions like these, you begin to uncover the answers that will begin to shape your solution, which inevitably leads to one thing: helping your customers win. And when your customers win, you win.