The art and science of loyalty

Emotions are something we as humans all have and react to on a daily basis. But as marketers, do we focus on emotions? Do they factor in to loyalty program planning and campaign execution? The majority of humans make decisions emotionally, not rationally. For example, 95% of purchasing decisions, according to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, take place unconsciously and emotions are leveraged to drive that decision. In other words, people feel first, and they think second. Appealing to someone’s feelings or emotions is most certainly an art. But naturally, the tendency for many marketers is to focus on the science of what we do as it’s calculated and easier to measure and attribute, especially when it comes to reporting back to finance. Focusing on emotions can be difficult, because they can be unpredictable, and often intimidating or confusing to marketers but they are just as important.

Understanding the psychology of your customers, what motivates their behavior, ‘the infrastructure’ of their belief system, and how they process information and make decisions (gut instinct, etc.) is key to the art of making emotional connections. Successful loyalty marketers 1) create experiences that are designed to shape the beliefs that they want customers to have about their brand and 2) inspire positive emotions to drive desired behaviors, for example, making a customer feel appreciated, confident, delighted, happy, respected or valued.

Gamification - the application of typical game playing elements (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity - is one such tactic/strategy that creates new experiences and draws on emotions by creating the behavior marketers yearn for. For example, Starbucks uses gamification tactics to enhance the experience of its members. As members log into the Starbucks Rewards app, they are greeted with ‘surprise’ bonus star opportunities that generate excitement upon clicking on the app to uncover what the ‘total surprise star reward’ will be. For example, 100 stars might be offered for visiting a Starbucks four times after 2:00 pm within a week. And the program has proven results. Membership in Starbucks Rewards grew 11% year-over-year to 13.3 million active members in the U.S., with member spend representing 36% of U.S. company-operated sales.

So remember, loyalty is driven by emotion, and can be completely irrational. We feel first, think second. And, human psychology tells us that behavior (e.g., purchase, advocate, visit) is a direct result of a person’s belief system. And a person’s belief system is created based on their past experiences. If we as loyalty marketers focus on the experiences that consumers have with a brand, they will begin to have new beliefs and positive emotions about that brand that will drive consumers to perform the desired behaviors and enduring loyalty.