Globally, brand building and successful marketing are coming down to relationship building and management, real hard, for brands. Consumer brand experience now comes down with direct impact on sales graphs and figures in quantifiable terms, more than ever before. It is gradually catching on with discerning brand managers, especially with banks, airlines, telecom companies, hotels and leisure.
In developed economies, loyalty program as sale tool has even moved from accumulating gain-points on consumer engagement or experience to becoming a very important element of an over-all customer strategy based on total experience including dialogue, insight and personalised offers. For example, hotels are now using information gleaned from loyalty program to customise the consumer experience by adding personal touches to rooms. Banks now practice customer reward system based on intimacy and value of engagement in form of customised personal service delivery, by tying together several products into points-based loyalty programs.
What markets stated above do, is reward different customers differently. Given that loyalty program as a marketing tool, its effectiveness depends on a given brand’s program so as will attract or entice the right customers to remain loyal. At the end of the day, it all comes down to cost computation, therefore, as in other strategic tools; customer loyalty program must be designed to attract positive return on investment.
The most basic of loyalty programs is based purely on transactions. Customers accumulate points redeemable for free goods or discounts on related products. It’s a tactical or promotional marketing initiative, also capable of stimulating revenue in the short term. So, the trend is tasking on creativity and strategic planning on the basis of experiential marketing support. It basically engages customers in form of appreciation for experiencing or engaging the brand, such that connects brand and customer at a point of friendship, way beyond the brand’s core value essence. It is about personalising the relationship between brand and customer; it’s about consumer experience.
I once had a very exciting loyalty program experience with Emirate airline in one of my travels from Dubai to Lagos. Going by their program design, the lot fell on me to be rewarded as a frequent flyer, redeemable in form of travel class upgrade. The experience of flying on Business Class from my Economy Class went a long way to establish the loyalty I developed for Emirate Airline brand. Such is brands’ gains from a well-executed loyalty program.
Unfortunately, brands in our local market are yet to connect with this unique global trend. Instead, the population of unhappy customers keeps growing. Across segments in our local market, the overriding marketing objective is rather brutal, unfriendly and selfish. Most brands across market segments are primarily concerned with delivering on sales projection rather than build enduring brand-consumer relationship. They all gain from the huge size of this market, being the largest market in Africa, and compromise consumers’ interest.
The situation is even made worse by the character of consumers in this market. To a great extent, limited options leave the average consumer compromised. As in the case of the cable television market, what choice is there to enable the average consumer make rational decisions, even in the face of compromises? The good thing, however, is that the economy is opening up to foreign influences. They may not be obviously purposeful with exposing the Nigerian customer to luxurious customer treatment in their home markets (cost consideration), but the vestiges will manifest in the long run. Kentucky Fried Chicken, Woolworth and Shoprite, are all going to change the face of brands management in this market in the long run. The telecom market is peculiar in influence as a tool for socio-economic development, no doubt, but it remains the one market requiring of improved customer experience management. As in the retail and fast food markets, change is coming the way brands in these markets are managed, considering that with time, consumer appreciation will grow, resulting in a more purposeful brands management.
The most manifest of brands support today is product campaigns. Because advertising is most often not based on challenging consumer expectation, such initiatives are not deep in concept, creativity and strategy. In fact, if it were possible to be absolutely quiet, the few brands that still invest in advertising would have ceased to bother. So, the main objective for most brands communication is consumer mind presence – not even top of mind awareness. It is enough for the brand’s showing on advert media, just so that it is seen to be advertising. For reasons of pseudo-competition, brands in telecom and drinks market (especially the alcoholic drinks segment), finds it very easy to hold promotions, promising all sorts of prizes to be won. The interesting thing about some of the promotions is that they are not primarily consumer rewarding. At best, they heighten consumer awareness and brand consideration because of the exciting prices promised. But we have also gathered that consumers are beginning to doubt the authenticity of some paraded winners and their prices. So much is done with computer graphics and structured photography to gain in authenticity. But the consumer is getting wiser.
In developed markets, loyalty program as a tactical sales promotion tool, has even been taken far beyond basic points gathering, to a more effective engagement that now sees brands deliberately investing to learn more about their customers by tracking not just their purchases but also their attitudes and needs. Customer loyalty program can serve as a viable platform for mutually rewarding brand-consumer engagement, and expand brands’ market size in volume and value terms through information, interaction and appreciation.
The degree to which customers find real value on a loyalty program will depend on how different they are in needs. So the brand will gain more by appreciating the deep individual differences among the diverse array of customers, and treat them with deserving care. It will cost much to achieve this, but assuredly it will be more profitable for brands. It all comes down to the concept of Total Consumer Satisfaction (TCS), which should be the primary objective of every brand.
We encourage brands to venture into investing in genuine consumer reward schemes as we approach annual year-seasonal sales period. Especially with the prevailing poor economic climate that has left average consumers weaker economically, brands in the Fast-Moving-Consumer-Goods market segment should take advantage of the season to build enduring relationship with their various target markets, because the gains are much more than the cost, now and in the long run.
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