Building brand loyalty in a connected world

Building brand loyalty in a connected world

Will your brand leverage Surprising Generosity?

This morning I realised I had accidently bought theatre tickets for the wrong date… I called the website’s customer service number to see if I could change it for another play or be reimbursed.

The website rep explained to me their reimbursement conditions stated I would only get 50% of the initial price. Well, that’s not a lot, “dura lex, sed lex” I thought!

Then the rep, after he had a quick look at my customer profile, added: “well, I can see you are a very frequent client, so I can offer a 95% reimbursement.” Woah! That surprised me, and exceeded my expectations.

So what can we learn from this? How is it relevant for FMCG and service brands?

It’s actually Surprising Generosity. Consumers are savvy when it comes to loyalty cards, promotions and rebates. They all know such programs are built to increase the amount they purchase from the brand. It’s all about transaction – I give you, you give me.

Now, let’s consider a collaborative friendly relationship between a brand and a consumer. It would become something like “I know you, I’m happy to give you a present. I believe that will strengthen our relationship.”

There are three key elements here:

  1. The present is a surprise – it is not something that is planned depending on how many points consumers have acquired through the loyalty program. Just a given, by surprise.
  2. No condition in the present – not a rebate on next purchases or something that requires further transaction. By giving a non-conditional gift, the brand makes a bet on loyalty and reputation.
  3. It’s about “give more” rather than “pay less” – the relation operates beyond the monetary transaction. You don’t offer rebates to your friends!

In real world, this could transform into:

  • E-commerce sites adding a gift in the shipping package – a real gift, not a promotional sample and explaining why the brand is doing that.
  • Insurance companies offering cinema ticket for a movie
  • Petrol stations giving a free car wash to frequent shoppers, recognized through their car license plate number automatically read
  • Airline companies spontaneously offering access to the company lounge to frequent flyers when checking in (not just the ones with platinum or gold status!)

Surprising generosity can be successfully executed at brand level, take Ben & Jerry’s for example.

Ben & Jerry’s developed a typical ‘surprisingly generous’ initiative and brought it to scale.

Not only does this create direct impact on consumers touched by it (the lucky ones who could enjoy several ice creams for free), but also creates social media content to fuel the brand equity.

And how about Pret A Manger, the UK’s leading independent retailer of premium sandwiches.

Their approach to customer loyalty makes them very different to their rivals, favouring unexpected moments of joy rather than loyalty schemes. Take a look at how they described it to one customer on Facebook…

Pret A Manger
What are the barriers?

Our personal experiences in and with large corporations help us identify at least three barriers to such initiatives:

  • People empowerment 

Field reps need to have access to client details and profiles and have the power to decide which gift they may give.

  • ROI

Generosity is probably hard to model – now this dimension may belong to your brand purpose.

  • Being brave

Apart from local stores, where there is a personal relationship between clients and store owners, few large companies have implemented a “Surprising Generosity” approach (you can’t call it a “program”, by definition) so the risk of being a first mover is also an opportunity!

With an increasing number of connected devices, it will become easy to “recognise” clients and automatically check their profile and relationship with a brand. “Surprising Generosity” will then soon be very easy to “industrialise.”

The question is will your brand be the first in its category to leverage this opportunity, following Prêt-a-manger in restaurant business?