Sorry for the delay & silence between posts, I’ve only just returned from a few weeks holiday in Italy & Scandinavia.
During one of my flights I randomly pick up a copy of the London Times and found a story that caught my interest. It was about loyalty in the times of the GFC and changes in consumer behaviour. The story details a USA based brand study, sponsored by the USA CMO Council from 2007 to 2009 that focused on consumer loyalty and retention across 685 brands. The study used data from 32 million consumer loyalty cards, similar to a Woolworth’s Every Day Rewards program.
The study found that in 2008, during the height of the GFC the average brand lost a third of its highly valuable customers – a staggering and frightening reality for direct marketers. This defection came from a group that habitually bought a specific brand for more than 70% of their purchases in a category. Brand measures of affinity, esteem and loyalty collapsed under price and promotion pressures. The study also found that in times of economic pressure, customers once loyal to premium brands in a category could be easily shifted to private-label house brands. The shift downwards was found to rapid, however the upwards shift to return to premium brands took far far longer. Over the two years of the study & data analysis, on an aggregate basis 52% of customers deemed as highly loyal either reduced their loyalty or completely defected from the brand.
The findings raise big questions for marketers and agencies (both creative & media). These include:
- Is the current strategy of hope, that deploys a spray & pray approach of TV, print, outdoor etc still relevant?
- How do we target more effectively through digital media? What is the impact of Search, Social Media, Blogging etc on purchase behaviour and intent at a retail level?
- What is the role and effectiveness of current loyalty programs? It would seem that they don’t influence behaviour as much as we all would hope. Do they need to be better planned and executed using dynamic behavioural data in an almost real-time way?
Loyalty as we all know is a key driver of revenue for brands and most marketing activity and investment are focused primarily on customer acquisition metrics with some form of loose LTV ascribed to a business case that justifies the campaign activity. As the above study indicates, in the majority of cases loyalty and retention programs lack structure, data insights, don’t track consumer behaviour and engagement and from the customer perspective lack relevance. Most programs at best follow a strategy of HOPE, where a single digit response rate is deemed successful and everyone involved slaps each other on the back and we as an industry celebrate flawed success.
Mark Buckman, the CMO of the Commonwealth Bank in Australia loudly shared his views on the role of direct communications and customer relevance at the 2009 ADMA Forum and in the Sydney Morning Herald. Simply put he believes its time for marketers to lift their game, become smarter and more insightful about engaging in a relevant way with consumers. I couldn’t agree more, most marketing is executed here in a lazy laissez-faire way with a “good enough is good enough” attitude.
Here at Downstream, we’ve also seen the rapid change in consumer behaviour. Search query volume is up significantly across almost every category and especially across banking, finance and travel, consumers are increasingly benchmarking brands against each other. The biggest rate of change we’ve also observed is in retail where Search has been traditionally shunned by bricks and mortar businesses in favour of mass media. This disconnect in the marketing equation unfortunately is consumers are increasingly turning to Search price check and either buy online or being driven to a retail outlet. Unfortunately brands that aren’t found aren’t relevant and are losing share of mind and wallet to their more dynamic, insightful and nimble competitors.
I’d love to know what has happened here in Australia over the past 2 years, how have customers defected from brands they once loved regardless of the price differential. Have the DM & eDM programs held off customer defection, how are the biggest brands in Australia thinking about the more effective use of data, segmentation, evaluation and brand engagement? What is the future of loyalty and how will it be executed more effectively than it is today?
Thoughts and opions are warmly welcome.