Customer loyalty is a funny thing, isn’t it? I remember when I was a kid I would only drink one brand of milk, Fresh’n’Lo. If my milk wasn’t in that familiar packaging I wouldn’t have anything to do with it. It wouldn’t get anywhere near my Coco Crispies, let alone into an unadulterated glass. Looking back at it, it strikes me (quite rightly) as madness, but I also feel a sliver of pride at just how fiercely loyal I was to that brand.

Why was I like this? Well, other than my inherent neurosis, I’m pretty sure it was a mix of familiarity to the point where it was habitual, as well as the illusion that this milk was somehow better than other milk. The cartons were always the most visible in the local food market, and sometimes I’d see it on the few billboards that overlooked the small town I grew up in. All these things undoubtedly created a loyal milk monster in me.

Customer Loyalty Is All Around Me, And So The Feeling Grows

That story tells you a lot about why brands spend a huge amount of time and money on marketing and advertising their products in order to keep customers coming back. It happens all around us, all the time: brands are constantly maintaining our awareness of what we are already familiar with.

Take, for instance, Coca Cola taking the time to make sure their bottles are at the perfect level in a shop’s refrigerator cabinet – and therefore easy to catch sight of, triggering the realisation that you’d love a sip of that familiar sugary taste. And of course also easy to reach out a hand and grab one.

It’s the same for TV ads. As a millennial, I don’t watch that much TV, but when I do I am shocked by the constant barrage of advertising. These ads often have very little to do with the product of the brand they are representing, but they certainly remind viewers of the brand’s existence. That is particularly important for businesses like online brokers who have no real world presence, which presumably explains the panoply of furry (or otherwise) ‘characters’ on my TV screen bringing these brands to sometimes irritating life.

Customer Loyalty On Mobile – A Changing Landscape

The emergence of mobile has changed what we might call the ‘loyalty landscape’ completely. Nearly everyone has a smartphone that they carry with them at all times, in all places, and use at any given opportunity. This has brought about a huge opportunity for brands, but they have only recently started to figure out the nuances of communicating with users through the most personal channel we’ve ever known. And of course there is still a lot of work to do.

Put simply: the old ways just don’t work as well as they used to. Mobile users don’t react well to being interrupted by constant advertising. They’re no longer held hostage to broadcasters who splice up content with a seemingly ever increasing ratio of manic ads. And if they are subjected to even a short ad that really gets in their way, chances are they’ll grow frustrated and give their attention to a different, more understanding app.

It’s clear that customer loyalty marketing today can’t just be about reminding people all the time that you exist. It’s far more important for your business to be on the screen of whatever device your customer is currently using. And this is the real challenge! In our age of fleeting attention spans, getting the brand on the screen – and staying there – is the single most important thing you can do to nurture customer loyalty.

How To Drive Customer Loyalty

So how do you do it? Well, if being on the screen is the goal, then implementing a smart retention strategy is the first step to making that happen. Let’s start with the first time that a user opens your app, as it will define the rest of their journey. I you don’t onboard successfully, that journey will be a rather short one. It’s all about educating your users about the core features of your app as effectively as you can, and in as unobtrusive way as possible. For example, use in-app messages to explain the benefits of signing up for a free trial or opting in for push notifications. Once your audience understand the full value of your service, developing loyalty and increasing engagement becomes a heck of a lot easier for you.

After the initial onboarding, when users have settled into your app and understand how to get the most out of it, the golden rule is simple: “first do no harm”. Let go of the old marketing ways. Resist the temptation to spam with push notifications. Instead, think “service messaging”, which provides helpful, and even important information to customers in real-time. Being able to communicate to a customer that you know, and perhaps can even anticipate, their needs is incredibly powerful when it comes to building loyalty. Messages like these serve the purpose of being genuinely helpful, and if done smartly, are unobtrusive. For example a weather app could message you to take an umbrella with you before you leave the house.

This approach develops a sense of trust and loyalty for your brand in the customer, and nurturing this over time will lead to more likelihood of them interacting with your messaging, even if that starts to edge into marketing territory. The alternative, on the other hand, is likely to simply teach your customers to ignore you, or worse delete the app. Your place on the screen is lost forever…

Ultimately, earning your customers’ loyalty is not rocket science, but it IS something that you need to think clearly about. A common sense and reliable approach is to simply put yourself in the customer’s shoes. “Would I find this message helpful, for me specifically? Really?” If you can answer “yes” to those questions (and the more targeted and personalized the message, the more often you will), then it’s probably OK to proceed. Taking that approach, and identifying the moments when you can truly help your customers, means you will be well on your way to customer loyalty success. Treat yourself to a cold glass of generic brand milk – you deserve it.