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Image courtesy of Simon Lord

Every morning as I meander to work in Charlotte Street I fortify myself for the day ahead at the Caffe Nero on Tottenham Court Road.

And every morning as I hand over the cash they parrot the same old question ‘do you have a loyalty card’. And every morning I mumble a ‘no’ and move onto the next question which is always about muffins or other items from the pastry selection.


Last week I ventured a more adventurous answer to their inanities, ‘you keep on making good coffee I stay loyal, you stop making good coffee I sod off’ (naturally this endeared me to the staff no end).
And that of course is the truth about loyalty.
Brand Loyalty is based on brand delivery, whether tangiable (great product performance) or intangiable (heaps of lovely identity value), it is not based on silly little loyalty card schemes or silly big loyalty card schemes for that matter. These are more accurately known as bribes and in a fairer world would be seen as a petty form of corruption. ‘Yeah I know that the product is shit, we are ripping you off and the service stinks but heres a bit of plastic that means for every half a million quid you spend in our store we will give you a half sucked polo mint and a bit of old string. Oh and occasionally we will send you a really poorly targeted bit of eCRM that will irritate the hell out of you but at least it won’t fill up your recycling bin like the other crap we send you. enjoy’.
OK, maybe I am a bit extreme as I refuse to take part in any reward programme as a matter of principle. But I am not content to simply pass up a free cup off coffee for every nine I buy, I really would like to see the whole stinking edifice of the loyalty business brought to its knees. For the simple reason that it perverts the behaviour of businesses.
For as long as organisations are focused on bribing their customers to continue purchasing from them they are not focused sufficiently on the real source of loyalty and that is providing a product that people find irresistible and refuse to substitute. And more than that, a product that people actively advocate in a slightly scary thousand-yard-stare kind of way.
Indeed I wonder how many brands or businesses that have these wonderful loyalty programmes actually have positive Net Promoter Scores – that’s where the number of customers that score the business 9 or 10 out of 10 for likelihood to recommend to a friend out-weigh the number that score the business 1 to 6 out of 10. With Net Promoter Scores you bin the 7s, and 8s as having a passive relationship with the brand and thus of no use to to man nor beast. Moreover, I wonder whether any of the brands that are really successful in creating strong advocacy have to bother with the bribes at all given their loyalty is based on far more fundamental relationships. Can you imagine an Apple Loyalty Programme?
So join me in my crusade against the business bribe, demand loyalty from brands rather than offering up yours for the price of a coffee and repeat after me ‘Loyalty my arse’, or as they might say in Cupertino if they weren’t so Californian and therefore allergic to bad language, ‘Loyalty my ass’.

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