Loyalty needs us to engage with the whole person, not just their wallet

Louise King
14 May 2019

Psychology theory tells us relatedness is important. People are many faceted and have needs, wants, desires, flaws and opinions. Yet there is a tendency for retailers to treat their customers as mostly walking wallets. Whilst retailers love the cost savings of the online world, in driving online sales they have lost the important feature of relatedness. It’s no accident it is called customer relationship marketing, after all. But sadly, there can be a tendency to treat customers as objects, and in doing so, have lost sight of them as individuals. It is an egregious error not to realise that wallets are not loyal to brands and experiences; individuals are. 

That’s why brands that are integral to a way of life are far more successful at gaining customer loyalty than those that offer discounts. Because loyalty is a behaviour, not a discount. Two brands that do this extremely successfully are Rapha and Sweaty Betty. Both offer their customers an enhancement to the way they live their life in the form of clothes, education and experiences. You can buy online, too, and there is a loyalty programme. But importantly, the loyalty discount is a minimal part of their customer’s engagement with them, and online is one of many ways customers engage. For loyalty to these brands is more about the customer’s way of life. They are loyal because all parts of the individual are involved - not just the spending part. In my experience, the retailers that struggle the most in communications are those that have only the wallet and their KPIs in mind, rather than the customer and how they live their life. 

Now this is easy when you are a niche sports brand, appealing to the sporty lifestyle. You might reasonably ask how this could be extended to include less dedicated lifestyle products. But this would be to miss the point – because loyalty is about how the customer sees themselves and their lifestyle. Brands who connect with the customer as a holistic whole have more loyal customers. The direction of flow has to be from the customer outwards. I once saw an automotive brief that suggested that a particular car would appeal to young singletons, married couples with children and older empty nesters. Effectively, practically the whole car buying market. Marketers need humility – to accept what a brand is and to strategically engage with individuals who have the attitudes, lifestyles, needs and desires that reflect those brand values. In this way, relatedness will be mutual, and loyalty will be a natural behaviour, not a discount offer.