There is consistent discussion within the social media, PR, and marketing industries today that centres on that elusive element of loyalty, or more specifically, how to increase true loyalty. Our pursuit of this intangible component, which has been closely connected with business success, is synonymous across industries, fields, and environments.
Whether it is a company seeking to garner brand loyalty, a marketing campaign that aims to redefine the connection between consumer and product or service, a political figure who depends on support across time and space, or simply a person who yearns for a companion who offers unconditional faithfulness, loyalty plays a large role in our professional and personal lives.
We develop loyalties with many tangible and abstract things, whether it’s family, country, religion, identity, product, or brand. I will be focusing on loyalty from a PR and social media perspective, while including the example of political campaigning as I believe it offers an optimal landscape to understand how loyalty shifts and is shaped by external factors. We can draw a lot of what we understand today about loyalty from philosophical theory.
As consumers or voters we define our loyalties through consciously acquired commitments to a brand, product, or institution. It is important to note that loyalty is not only defined by a person’s interaction, purchase, or vote – it is a malleable element of a person’s being and justification of one’s loyalty depends on an intrinsic connection to that brand, person or product.
The most important aspect that we can pluck from traditional philosophical assumptions is that the strength of any claim of loyalty depends on the importance and the legitimacy of a person’s association. In other words, it relies on one’s perception of their relationship with a brand or a political representative: is it legitimate? Is the relationship mutual? Is there an element of dependence? Is it authentic and meaningful? And is that association nurtured
Our industries, at its most basic form, would define loyalty as the situation in which a consumer generally purchases and re-purchases a product over time, rather than buying from several sources. The same applies to the political election campaign where loyalty would be defined as the situation in which a constituent votes and re-votes for your candidate, rather than switching between parties. From there you enter into secondary aspects of loyalty: referrals, leads, and business development form the corporate perspective and volunteers, donations, and word of mouth branding from the political perspective.
We all know the offsets of true, unconditional loyalty within any industry, but we focus our attention on how to achieve that level of allegiance. Many believe that it’s a robust and extensive loyalty rewards program, multi-million marketing or PR campaigns, or an investment of numerous hours per day engaging your digital community through social media. I’m sure these campaigns would yield sizeable benefits, but it’s more than just thinking about loyalty as a binary equation: (time/money) + (forum/vehicle) = widespread loyalty.
It’s more than that – much, much more. We need to understand how to operate, engage, and carry ourselves in that space in order to be successful.
Care and Trust
Interactions within either the private sector or public sector need to be not only perceived, but believed to be authentic. It is remarkable how readily identifiable self preservation or selfishness is in any environment a person finds themselves in. The fear of this happening is not that people may feel betrayed or used, but with the emergence of social media, these actions often lead to revolt and a public flogging.
We have all seen this happen and as many may think, it’s not good for your bottom line, your support base, or any pursuit of loyalty preservation in the future.
In your daily interactions, build trust by caring about your audience’s environment. Invest the time to not only engage, but to take action wherever possible. Caring is not synonymous with chatter; it’s much deeper than that. Take a stake in those around you.
This might be different from what others may tell you, but I believe it is important to care just as much about your supporters as it is about your detractors or sceptics. Including everyone, and I mean everyone, in your discussions and engagement goes a long way in building a brand that is compatible with trust and authenticity.
Deliver on the Unexpected
Dialogue and engagement is only the foundation for loyalty. Go beyond just words and deliver something unexpected to your audience. It doesn’t have to cost a considerable amount of money, but it needs to mean something. It could be a featured article on your website, a small prize, a connection or an introduction, or it could even be just recognition within the digital space.
Deliver in ways that go beyond simple interaction.
Again, and this will continue to pop up…include everyone. Don’t ignore those around you, because it tends to have repercussions that are difficult to undue.
One of the best examples of this I can think of is Starbucks, in-store and in the digital sphere. On numerous occasions I have received a free drink because I waited a painstaking extra three minutes for my $4 beverage. When they hand me these “we’re sorry for the service” coupons, I think to myself, this can’t be real, it was only three minutes. They have a unique ability to make me feel incredibly important and they clearly understand the value of my happiness.
The service, mixed with delicious coffee of course, is why I keep coming back. But, if it were between Starbucks and another shop with the same tasting coffee, I would choose the former every time. My loyalty continues to strengthen because they understand how to take care of their customers, happy or otherwise.
Just like within the digital world, if you are a company or a political representative, you must acknowledge, engage and act on inquiries or complaints. There are clear policies and processes for this, but the return on your investment of time (online and offline) is vast and contributes directly to loyalty growth. Taking an issue from a complaint via Twitter to a tangible deliverable is remarkably powerful.
As I have maintained throughout this post it does not matter which industry or sector you operate in, loyalty defines a certain level of your success. It doesn’t take money, sophisticated strategies, or a degree in psychology to understand the importance of authentic compassion, unconditional involvement, investment in your interactions, unique action, and detailed care.
For example, if you look at Dogfish Head Brewery, a small craft beer company in the U.S., they have more than 81,000 followers on Twitter and their engagement style is remarkably personal, dedicated, and sustained. On the other hand look at, Molson Coors, a multinational corporation, has a mere 4,100 followers on Twitter and a handful of Tweets.
Whose brand loyalty do you think is stronger from the digital perspective? I completely understand the latter grosses more profit and may garner a certain level of loyalty through other means, but in terms of die-hard loyalists, Dogfish Head Brewery rivals any multinational corporation laden with capital to spend on marketing. This is a perfect example of how to build a brand that is connected with your customers on an authentic, grassroots level.
Developing loyalty begins with how a person or a brand carries itself from the centre, top-down, and horizontally. Nurturing loyalty within a customer or voter base is an endeavour that takes time and understanding. But a person could spend their entire working days cultivating relationships on Twitter and it wouldn’t correlate to sustained loyalty. What people need to understand is that it goes beyond just time invested; it depends on how you foster trust, worthiness, and reliability with those you interact with.
With those around you seek to develop a relationship that is similar to one you would have with a person you care deeply about. Viewing these exchanges through this lens reshapes how you carry yourself in your field.
What builds loyalty in the digital sphere is exactly like what builds relationships in your personal life. Take a moment and reflect on this type of analogy and identify five different characteristics you look for in a friend or a colleague or a business partner. These elements that you highlight can almost always be implemented into any digital interaction.
For example, when I think of what makes a good business partner, reliability is almost always at the top of my list – being there for someone else, following through on promises or assistance, and being a person who can be depended on. This is how I would want a digital community or customer base to view me as well.
Take the time to map out how you perceive loyalty and act in a way that promotes those subtle nuances and vital characteristics. By consciously reflecting on this abstract element of a strong relationship you can effectively integrate personal characteristics in a digital format.
What defines loyalty in your profession and how is it pursued?