Image by Muffet via Flickr
Image by Muffet via Flickr

Cultivating, and then nurturing, brand loyalty have always been top priorities for marketers.

No “one-size-fits-all” formula exists, however, and different companies have developed different methods to accomplish these mission-critical goals. Supermarkets give additional discounts to “members” with loyalty cards. Airlines encourage us to log frequent flier miles. Zappos offers free shipping and free return shipping. The list goes on and on.

But, have social media and today’s increasingly digital environment made building brand loyalty easier or more difficult?

I can see both sides. On the one hand, it’s more difficult. Consumers are more fragmented than ever before. They have more purchase options and can be swayed by online commentary that’s beyond our control.

On the other hand, marketers now have many more touch points than ever before. Digital marketing allows us to reach consumers in new ways. Plus, analytics empower us with fresh insights into the customer life cycle.

At the end of the day, I suppose only one thing is clear: Strategies for building customer loyalty are continuing to evolve.

Don’t feel overwhelmed, though. Digital marketing is beginning to mature, and I believe some clear rules of engagement have emerged. Stay true to a few fundamentals, and you’ll rise to the challenge of building brand loyalty in this complex landscape. For example, it’s essential that you:

1. Stay human. Without a doubt, data aggregation and analysis have become essential in today’s digital environment. But, remember that every one of those data points represents an individual, a person. Successful marketing still depends on building relationships, and as always, trust plays a prominent role. Keep your focus where it belongs (on the consumer, not on the next shiny object!), plot your course methodically (making adjustments as you go) and don’t presume consent. Keep in mind that social media is a two-way street. Marketers now can see more human qualities about individual consumers online, but in turn, consumers expect companies to appear more human to them.

2. Tune into complexities of the customer lifecycle. Years ago, marketers grouped consumers based on coarse demographics. Today, we can do better. Use newer psychographic data to construct a mental model of each consumer in the context of his/her unique customer lifecycle. This level of sophistication helps ensure that your marketing messages will be well-timed, customized and relevant.

3. Respect each customer’s time and attention. Just because you can connect with a customer for every holiday, birthday or weekly promotion, doesn’t mean you necessarily should. Don’t spam. Also, be sure to listen and respond to comments on social media sites. Are your customers talking about you? Are they asking questions about your product/service online? If you don’t answer, your competitor will.

4. Integrate. Presenting a seamless approach across platforms – both traditional and digital – adds the credibility that strengthens customer loyalty. One of the first places to start is with your web landing pages. Update old messages, add new links, etc. Design campaigns that are consistent across multiple platforms so you can be sure you’re reaching customers where and when they want to hear from you.

Today’s digital marketplace is changing the way we build and nurture brand loyalty. But, don’t rest your laurels on Facebook “likes” and Twitter follower counts – they tell only a small part of the story. Your customers now demand individualized, two-way interactions with your brand, and they’re clamoring for messages that are relevant and personalized. Fortunately, a variety of simple-to-use analytics and marketing tools are available to help you sharpen your focus, create campaigns that truly resonate and build brand loyalty.