What Loyalty Marketers Can Learn From Dating

Brands must start slowly, listen and respond, and show customers some gratitude.

By Geoff Smith

Build Loyalty

How many times while checking out at a store have you been invited to join a loyalty program? Often it seems like a hassle. You’re in a rush, and the idea of holding up the line and handing over your personal data – for a modest discount — doesn’t seem like a fair trade off. So when customers decline that invitation, are they saying they don’t like discounts, or that they don’t like your brand? The answer to both these questions is likely “no.”

Where’s The Disconnect?

For customers, the perceived hassle – the discomfort with sharing personal details, such as an email, postal address or cell phone number – can be a turn off. For brands, it’s a missed opportunity.

In essence, persuading people to join a loyalty program is a lot like dating.

When a first date comes on too quickly, the usual reaction is to push that person away. But when the relationship moves slowly, when things are easy, and when you begin to feel comfortable, you’re happy to share more things about yourself. And when you do, you and your date can make the relationship more meaningful and develop a deeper connection and bond.

This same dynamic exists for brands seeking to make lasting connections with consumers.

Membership in U.S. retail loyalty programs has grown to an estimated 2.647 billion members — a 26.7 percent increase. Clearly, and with growing urgency, brands are trying to create lasting relationships with their customers.

Drawing from the world of dating, the following are four steps loyalty marketers can take — from that first hello to meet the parents.

1. The Introduction: Ease Into The Relationship

In the dating world, when you come across someone who’s appealing and you want to establish a connection, it usually starts with a conversation and ends with a request to connect online with a Facebook request, or if you are lucky, a phone number. Loyalty marketers can learn a lot from this example.

By asking for a singular piece of data, such as a email address — in exchange for a nice discount or offer — marketers can make it easy to start a relationship with a customer. If brands are smart, they would follow up with offer another incentive.

In dating terms, this is similar to the man/woman who received your phone number, showing up well dressed, or in a nice car. In the world of loyalty marketing, a company might send that initial email, but they also might integrate their loyalty incentives into their stores and website — reminding the customer at every turn of the value that comes with a relationship.

By moving slowly, and impressing the customer, the relationship is off to a good start.

2. The First Date: Listen and Respond

Now that you have your date’s attention, the key to advancing the relationship is to listen to that person, and to respond in a way that creates a greater connection. With a customer, it’s the same thing.

The more you make the relationship about that person, the more likely he or she will be to participate in your loyalty program. For instance, if your first offer to a customer is based on a recent purchase, as opposed to something random, you’re more likely to make a connection. As another example, if you call out the specific store where that customer shopped, that individual may feel that you’ve taken the time to know his or her preferences.

  • Does that customer dislike frequent emails?
  • Does the person always shop at the same store?
  • Is this a passionate fan of your brand, or someone who is more passive?
  • Does this shopper buy from you year round, or just for special occasions?

How and when you reach out is all part of showing your customers that you’re interested in serving them that you listen and you care. And just like with dating, it’s usually best to move slowly in the beginning. The same is true for data and brand loyalty.

You’re more likely to succeed long term when you advance incrementally and collect valuable pieces of new information over time, carefully acting on each bit of gained knowledge about your customers. This notion is called Progressive Profiling.

3. Getting Serious: Establish A Deeper Connection

Once you’ve established your value and have shown respect for your date’s needs, chances are good he or she is now ready to trust you and even consider the long-term relationship. In the dating world, that might take the form of an anniversary date or an expensive gift. In the business world, you need to close the deal — to show this customer that he or she is the one by showing your appreciation.

One increasingly popular form of gratitude marketers use is experiential rewards. These kinds of rewards aren’t typically found in stores and are viewed by customers as special.

Experiential rewards could mean hard-to-get sports tickets or memorabilia, all access passes to a local concert, a shout-out/mention on Twitter from your favorite brand, or exclusive access to a private sale. Whatever they entail, experiential rewards will always create deep connections because of their uniqueness and exclusivity.

Another way to establish a deeper connection is through a concept known as surprise and delight. With surprise and delight, the reward is not incentive driven, but is rather – you guessed it — a surprise.

Imagine receiving a free beverage when your loyalty card is scanned at your favorite coffeehouse, or an unexpected upgrade to a new tier that offers additional perks and benefits. You’d probably never forget the company that surprised you with a perk. And chances are, your ongoing loyalty would be set in stone.

4. Meet The Family

Now you’ve met your match, listened to your match’s needs, and delivered great service, incentives, and rewards. It’s time for the final step: you meet the family. In the dating world, this step can be excruciating, sometimes mortifying. But here is where this dating comparison diverges.

In the world of loyalty marketing, this step involves only happiness and success. Your match loves you—and he or she wants to share you with everyone closest to him or her. Best of all, thanks to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, and others, this sharing is easier than ever before.

Your match might even go online and post reviews, comments, or blogs about your great products and service. And now that you’ve been exposed to your match’s 300, 500, or 1,000 online friends, you now have a whole new set of relationships to get to work on. But remember: take it slow!

Are you creating lasting relationships with your existing customers?