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Customer loyalty is just one more way of saying “repeat business.” It is what every smart brand wishes to cultivate to maintain brand reputation and image — and see the best profits. This is why so many businesses now offer some kind of customer loyalty program, usually providing some kind of points-based rewards. These programs, however, are representing just one type of brand loyalty and one type of engagement — a type that customers, going forward, may be engaging in less and less.

The four types of customer loyalty are:

  • True Loyalty: True loyalty goes beyond a company’s brand. Customers engage with that brand for reasons to do with something personal that is beyond the reach of the brand’s own marketing. It is the most powerful, but also nearly impossible to cultivate.
  • Inertia Loyalty: A customer engages with a brand out of inertia out of a desire to not have to go elsewhere. Convenience in hours, location and selection of products plays a huge role in cultivating this type of loyalty, but it can be easily lost if a competitor provides a more convenient alternative.
  • Mercenary Loyalty: This is the most common type of loyalty in today’s customers, though that is changing. Mercenary loyalty is represented by the abundance of points-based reward programs. It is, in essence, paying customers to be loyal to a brand by the promise of rewards and discounts. It has been effective historically, but it is no longer enough by itself as it targets only a customer’s desire to get more rather than tapping into the customer’s emotional responses as the fourth kind of loyalty does.
  • Cult Loyalty: This type of loyalty requires the customer to engage with the brand out of a sense of emotional fulfilment. The brand is taken in as part of the customer’s own identity. This makes cult loyalty powerful, but it is tricky to cultivate as it demands the brand to become more personable, connected and engaging. Brands using cult loyalty to engage customers are going to see much more return in the future over brands relying on mercenary loyalty alone.

The best approach is to combine mercenary and cult loyalty. Mercenary loyalty has the advantage of turning its programs into habit-forming rituals that can feed into a customer’s cult loyalty. To emphasize a customer’s cult loyalty, brand marketing must turn an eye towards developing the brand as one that helps the customer bond with others, build community and make the world a better place.

Customers who can easily share their experiences with a brand with others are more likely to develop cult loyalty, and, in turn, can pass that loyalty on to others. This can provide a massive return on investment that mercenary loyalty is unable to duplicate.
If you are looking to build a loyal following, these tips might be useful to you:

  • Be engaging, not boring. Make your campaigns and interactions relevant to your customers.
  • Target customers where they prefer to be engaged. For some customers, this may be social media sites. For others, it may mean offering “dynamite” mobile apps.
  • Lavish attention on customers, but make sure that it is personalized attention rather than spam.
  • Harness all the power of technology for your marketing efforts. Use the data collected and analytics to determine which campaigns are driving loyalty, which devices customers are using and other pertinent information.
  • Above all else, tailor your efforts so that you connect with your customers on an emotional level. Cult loyalty is emotion-based rather than logic-based.

Another added advantage to cult loyalty is that if customer engagement runs deep enough to entitle the customer to truly feel the world is made better by interacting with that brand, then this can lead to the elusive, much-desired, genuine true loyalty. The brand has become so much a part of the customer’s identity that the loyalty has gone beyond the brand — the customer simply cannot imagine doing without the product or company — which is a worthwhile goal for any enterprise.

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