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To win in the digital age, you’ve got to think Old School

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To win in the digital age, you’ve got to think Old School
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I’ve been exhibiting some old-school behavior of late. Just this week:

  • I called a friend to talk through a concern. I could have engaged in a long stream of SMS messages, but thought it more direct and personal to just call the person up, listen to the emotion in her voice, and get right to the point.
  • I sat down and crafted a handwritten note to congratulate a friend on a personal accomplishment. I could have responded to the LinkedIn notice of the event by clicking to add a quick “Congrats” to his timeline, or I could have posted on his Facebook page. Somehow I thought the accomplishment deserved more recognition and my friend thanked me for taking time to pick up pen and paper, as well as invest in a stamp.
  • Encountering a seldom-seen friend while out shopping, I stopped, held the door for him and addressed him by his first name. Somehow that seemed a more personal way to address my friend, rather than the throw-away “Dude, Man, or Bro”.

The funny thing about culture is that “norms” change, but at an almost imperceptible rate. We can find ourselves behaving differently than we did 2 years prior without being able to put our finger on “why” the change took place.

In our digitally driven culture, these changes are happening more often and in multiple areas of our lives. I’d like to think that some of the digital communications habits we’ve adopted as a people aren’t always “better”, they just “are”. The herd mentality takes over and we rationalize that if everyone is doing it, then it must be ok.

Our human ability to create new technology has proven to outpace our capacity to gracefully incorporate the technology into our lives. Take a drive down any major thoroughfare in America and you’ll see a large percentage of people driving with their heads down – looking at their mobile phones. I would venture to say that most people would acknowledge the danger in distracted driving, but we still can’t stop.

Trends in loyalty marketing, Millennial marketing in particular, are being impacted in a way that mirrors cultural change. The biggest change seems to be a move to behavioral marketing, providing incentives for customer interactions online and in social channels rather than just  rewarding for purchase transactions themselves.

On the surface, the idea is spot – on and is something that we’ve advocated on as Contextual Loyalty. The unfortunate by-product of the evolution is that many pundits are liberally bashing points programs as a thing of the past, labeling them as “spend and get” as if to smear all value associated with the model. Points programs, they say are expensive, create financial liability, and generally fall short of satisfying today’s standard to engage digital customers.

Our vision for Contextual Loyalty includes attention to balancing awards for purchase as well as interactions. As the rush to reward interactions has grown, many brands may discover that programs that gratuitously reward for online interactions (posts, tweets, updates, check-ins, user generated content, etc.) will fall short if structured in a one-sided manner. It’s entirely possible that even the most digitally conversant among consumers will grow tired of having to tweet, favorite and post about “Brand X” to gain access to rewards.

There are several risky implications that come from imbalanced loyalty structure:

  • By putting the earning power of a customer rewards program solely in this domain, the invitation to game the system is magnified.
  • Even true brand loyalists will succumb to the need to post mass quantities of updates if they are to gain tier status and their posts will evidence the quantity of their online interactions rather than their quality.
  • The value of user-generated impressions will be diluted. Never forget the online world is skeptic driven. Conspiracy theories abound and the trolls are always just one click away. As soon as a brand’s “social loyalty” program smells like paid propaganda, the critics will cry out for all to hear.

Remember the value of authentic reviews, recommendations and posts. The more transparent, the more they express true brand love and serve as confidence building evidence for others to shift their patronage away from a competitor.

Just like it will take some horrific accidents on the road to convince drivers that staring at their phone while on the highway is not a sustainable practice, brands rushing headlong to launch socially driven customer loyalty programs will experience some accidents along the way. None we hope will be dramatic as what can happen on the highway, but there is potential brand damage at stake.

We always recommend to stack up your planned customer marketing strategy against industry practice. A balanced value proposition has delivered the best results over 30 years of loyalty marketing and no matter what new technology or digital communications channel you have to add to your mix, remember to keep some balance in your program structure.

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