Marketers Should Focus on Relevance and Stop Thinking About Loyalty.

“Brand relevance or customer loyalty?” you ask. Good question. Loyalty marketing as it has been called is being eclipsed by the new era of Movement Marketing. The old way was based on the idea that people will keep buying the same stuff from a company with incentives. Yet, according to recent consumer research from Kantar Retail, 71% of consumers now claim that loyalty incentive-programs don’t make them loyal at all – a marketing agency hired by a brand needs to be more innovative than that.

Does your customer retention strategy depend on “buying” loyalty with rewards or discounts? Does loyalty cost you a lot? Does it tell people they get something for nothing.

Rather, with the rise of digital interception strategies, people are increasingly buying why a brand is relevant to their lives and their unique needs at the moment they Google you.

Consumer research from Accenture shows that in the U.S. market alone, companies are losing $1 trillion in annual revenues to their competitors because they are not consistently relevant enough. Loyalty remains important, but this finding indicates that the future of marketing — and, in the big picture, many businesses — depends on serving a customer’s most relevant needs in the moment.

So how do you build a business based on being relevant to the consumer?

It starts with a different definition of relevance according to a recent article in HBR. Abraham Maslow’s oft-quoted “hierarchy of needs” — first published in 1943 — provides a good start. Maslow set out our psychological needs and motivations. His framework also offers a model for rethinking the traditional four P’s of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion. Most companies today are guided by the latter but ought to be focused on the needs.

Brands basing their marketing on the four P’s target a static customer archetype (e.g., a high-minded customer for branded hummus or a value-conscious customer for a store brand). The reality is that there is no such customer archetype in reality, according to the HBR article.  Everyone’s needs change and vary depending on time and context. But most of all they are shopping with their phones in hand and googling their needs along the way. Simply creating awareness for your brand is a start, but how relevant is it? And how relevant is it through the customer journey?

Flywheel, my passion point, provides a good example of what this looks like in practice. I am part of a community for indoor spinners and fitness freaks. Flywheel’s purpose aligns with my values of health and a positive environment. But more than a purpose which is very theoretical, Flywheel has a built-in movement happening which I am gladly a part of. Not only that but I am rallying my friends to be part of this as well. This experience is relevant to me, creates a sense of pride and, to be honest, the offering is price insensitive to those who show up early Saturday morning. Flywheel is not a fitness brand, it’s a movement cult. Their words: “We’re challenging. We’re intensely fun. We’re not like anyone else. Our boundary-breaking, performance-focused stadium cycling and precision training have an 8-year track record of results. Get ready to build your most limitless body—in and out of the studio.”

The instructor, in this case Eve who happened to do a Podcast with me recently, helps me and my friends achieve our emotional and physical objectives and inspires each of us to achieve things we never thought possible.  The movement, the experience, the brand content all play role in helping me feel good about myself every time the brand and I meet, which tends to be very early in the morning. Nevertheless, I am thrilled to be there. Compare that to your classic gym experience.

Consider Tribe, the hummus brand owned by food giant Nestle, and Athenos owned by Kraft. Consumers typically associate big food companies with mass-production methods and plastic packaging. Companies like these are more typically accustomed to using traditional 4 P’s approaches such as pricing and promotions to attract and retain customers. But a few years back, Tribe and Athenos found itself contending with an category disruptor brand, Sabra, that decided to forego the 8% of the foodie consumers in the United States and instead devised a brand movement strategy working with our advertising agency in NYC, StrawberryFrog, that emphasized food intervention.

Sabra pivoted toward a focus on customer relevance to 92% of Americans. Sabra found that consumers often take pride in brands that are set on changing the world vs products with a connection to an authentic national tradition — whether Greek home made hummus or Israeli round table eating culture.  Recognizing that hummus was much more appealing as a verb rather than a noun, Sabra turned this insight into a market advantage that propelled them to over 60 market share, making it one of the most successful food brands in the United States.

The company then set out to broaden its portfolio with offerings such as Salsa and other dips and educate consumers on different ways to eat hummus, which brought in new consumers and grew the brand even further.

These targeted initiatives translated into increased sales. Sabra is a noteworthy example of a company purposefully pivoting to an approach that extends beyond its norms of product marketing to be relevant to massive group of customers.

Another movement is for the CVS Pharmacy, the retail pharmacy of CVS Health. CVS Pharmacy  moved beyond a purely transactional retail model where customers fill prescriptions; instead, the company is focusing on helping their customers on their path to overall better health. In this way, customers share the company’s movement, the extension of its purpose. It helps satisfy their desires to feel cared for, and helps build upon the trusted relationship most customers have with their pharmacist.

Extending far outside the traditional retail paradigm, CVS is embracing technologies including predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to send their customers personalized reminders to refill or take their medications, making the entire brand experience better and make the CVS brand more relevant by taking a stand for protecting one’s health and well-being.

To succeed in this era of relevance, marketers and companies must be continuously willing to abandon the old. In the case of Jim Beam, StrawberryFrog devised the movement ‘Make History’ which helped the brand become relevant to an entirely new generation of consumers. The brand took a stand against the patriarchy and for equality, and named Mila Kunis as the face of this movement. Incidentally, the Jim Beam CMO was named CMO of Uber this week.

As customer journeys and expectations shift, companies should strive to enhance their  ability to engage with customers in the most relevant ways. Often, the greatest roadblock is a company’s lack of willingness to transform their mindsets. To overcome that barrier, smart companies have shifted from a product-focused mindset to brand-fueled movement marketing.

SunTrust Bank offers a good example. Instead of thinking of itself merely as a bank, SunTrust purposefully developed the brand fueled movement ‘onUp‘ together with StrawberryFrog. ‘onUp’ is aligned with what is on people’s minds –– financial stress. At last count, 3.7 Million participants have rallied around the stand against financial stress and for financial confidence. SunTrust has increased and broadened the relevance factor and in the process attracted new customers, including a new generation of customers. The site functions as an organic SEO publishing platform which increases the brand’s domain authority to the new truth seeking consumer who more often than not Googles what they’re going to buy before they buy.

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Today’s mobile-enabled consumers are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating their purchasing decisions. Traditional brands are relying on advertising provided by an old-school marketing agency and loyalty programs at a time when movement brands are becoming more relevant and where disruptive brands are intercepting consumers in the customer journey. Today, consumers are choosing the brands most relevant to them. Not only that, they’re pay a premium –– just like me and my Flywheel movement which provides me and my friends with a profound degree of relevance beyond the vigorous fitness.  Doesn’t this sound like the recipe for driving loyalty more than ever?

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