For well over a decade, customer relationship marketing and their umbrella loyalty programmes have been a cornerstone of successful marketing and retail strategies for many of the UK’s biggest brands. Companies such as Tesco and Boots were amongst the first to establish customer loyalty programmes with sophisticated data analysis, which have grown to become hugely significant elements of their business, maximising sales and profits.
The growth of customer loyalty programs has been matched by the growing expectations of customers for marketing messages to be relevant and targeted. The digital age in which we now live means that businesses really need to understand their customers to a level that facilitates relevant and targeted marketing material to the right individuals. Get this right and not only will brand loyalty increase, but sales will be less volatile during periods of economic downturn, such as the ones we are experiencing currently.
Marketing and retail
The UK has seen customer loyalty schemes change dramatically. At first, it was largely a case of collecting points in return for money off vouchers and other rewards at individual companies. Over time, some companies joined umbrella schemes, which offer customers even more value for their loyalty by sharing set up and marketing costs, as seen with the Nectar card. So have customer loyalty schemes reached their limit?
The answer is certainly not. In fact, customer loyalty and brand loyalty schemes are really only now coming into their own thanks to technological advances, which impact on our daily lives. Of course, the one piece of technology which has revolutionised how we all do business and how we run our daily lives is the smart phone. Indispensible to almost all individuals from the moment they wake until the moment they go to sleep, smart phones, i pads and other similar technology also offer marketers and in particular, retail marketers, the chance to reach their audiences accurately and with immediacy.
To be slightly more specific, it is the location-based software available on a smart phone that will be of interest to customer loyalty scheme providers. The more targeted your marketing messages are, the better your response will be. Customer location becomes a highly valuable piece of information, which enables you to get your message across not only to the right person, but also to speak to them in the right place at the right time, i.e. near to where they can buy from you, the retailer.
Deborah Stone at The Stone Consultancy one of the UK’s leading retail marketing consultancies, believes that companies who embrace new smart technology and more importantly, use it with the right analytics, will be the real winners in the battle to retain customer loyalty and sales. ‘The first stage of customer loyalty schemes was reward – spend your money at our store, get points, get a discount. The second stage was about multi-brand reward schemes – get points, get a choice of rewards. The third stage is all about immediacy– ‘check in’ to my brand now and get your reward now. Instant gratification for an instant sale.’
At this stage, it is reasonable to say that no major retailer has cracked combining geo-location with customer loyalty reward schemes. And it must also be pointed out that it has its sceptics, who rightly point out shortcomings, such as lack of smart phone ownership and concerns over user behaviour.
However, it cannot be denied that the number of smart phone users will only grow and that judging by the success of existing customer loyalty reward schemes, it will continue to grow and shape the relationship between an individual and a brand or business. A decade ago, people queried whether or not investing in huge CRM programmes could ever affect the bottom line. We have seen the phenomenal results from those retailers who embraced the concepts and used them intelligently. So it will be with smart technologies. The retailers who think smart will reap the rewards.