Make the journey its own reward - shift from buying loyalty to building emotionally engaging relationships

An important step in your company’s journey towards greater customer-centricity and an exceptional CX is shifting your focus from buying volume and loyalty to building emotionally engaging relationships with your brand. Your brand's relationship with its customers is like a bond, and the strongest relationships are not just transactional but emotional, resonating on a more personal level.

Yet most businesses continue to approach loyalty programs as “earn-burn” relationships where customers earn points and burn them on rewards. Or they regularly provide discounts and promotions as a way to chase volume. The problem with this approach is it is a prisoners’ dilemma - everyone does it because everyone else does it and nobody gets the extra growth they hope to achieve. Even if you are exceptionally good at generating customer insights and designing promotional events, you may still feel stuck, trying to make a challenging situation less bad vs. changing the game.

We’re starting to see a shift in this narrative. Brands are now seeking to forge emotionally engaging relationships that resonate at a deeper level. They are looking to create unique and memorable experiences that foster lasting loyalty. In the case of consumer goods manufacturers, travel and hospitality brands, or other brands sold through distributors or retailers, this can mean growing their own ecommerce businesses to engage customers directly, as well as collaborating with retail trading partners to drive subscriptions together. For retailers, it can mean broadening the way they engage customers, themselves, and how they collaborate with manufacturers whose products they sell to deliver value through content, community, and convenience.

Amplifying innovation that goes beyond buying loyalty requires a customer experience strategy that makes the journey itself more rewarding for the customer. This enables you to establish stickier relationships with customers through subscriptions and “as a service” business models, reducing your promotion depth as you deliver a more differentiated experience. Here are a few starter ideas for how you can prioritize the right “bold bets” to focus on for your experience innovation efforts. Feel free to combine these strategies for the best fit and impact that aligns with your own unique situation.

1. Personalized Solutions

Over my career I’ve enjoyed working with consumer brands and retailers to help them reimagine the practice of shopper marketing, developing new capabilities to collaborate on how they engage shoppers on their path to purchase in the store, on the go, and in the home. I’ve also enjoyed helping brands in other categories like travel and hospitality, healthcare, and financial services develop stronger capabilities to innovate the customer experience and deepen engagement. Years ago, in-store shopper solutions were primarily displays and shelf-edge signage that provided ideas to the shopper to “stop, hold, and close” the sale, sometimes combining multiple products together (e.g., frozen pizza and soda, chocolate and graham crackers, etc.), often with a promotional offer featured on the display. Today, you can offer more personalized shopper solutions via ecommerce and other digital experiences in ways that used to be much harder to scale. Rather than just personalizing your marketing communications and promotions, you can now also personalize the product (e.g., digital printing for labels or late-stage customization of what gets shipped in the box) as well as “beyond the product” content experiences. Beauty companies have been pursuing digital shopper solutions for years, helping you find the right products for your skin and helping you learn about how to build the right regimen for you. Apparel, fitness and wellness brands have focused on the “quantified self” to gamify the experience and drive habitual behaviors. The same opportunities are increasingly available across other categories, too, as you take advantage of mobile, internet of things, and other digital experiences that allow you to capture data and deliver tailored experiences.

2. Edutainment

Brands are increasingly publishers, positioning themselves as category leaders to build experiences vs. buy volume. One strategy to reimagine loyalty is to focus on curating experiences that help customers meet their goals. What’s the “why” behind their purchase? How can you help them engage more fully in the category and reach their goals? Rather than sell pet food, help customers keep their pets healthy and have more fun. Rather than sell cooking supplies, help customers learn new techniques and showcase their talents. Rather than sell home improvement products, help customers learn how to do the next project or solve a problem more quickly. Increasingly these types of “edutainment” experiences can be delivered not only in the store, but online. This allows you to blend content, community, and commerce to reinforce loyalty and drive brand advocacy. You can also train your frontline employees to spot the right clues to drive continuous improvement in your edutainment experiences. Your employees can be an on-ramp for 1:1 relationships by getting customers to engage with a more complete omnichannel experience.

3. Reimagine Convenience

Customers’ perception of convenience involves much more than a great location and a frictionless store visit. It now includes your fulfillment experience for ordering online and picking up curbside or in store, as well as faster deliveries to the home. It includes contactless payments. It includes flexibility to change delivery schedules and delivery locations, as well as more predictable and shorter delivery windows. Increasingly, advances in AI and the internet of things are making predictive ordering more reliable. We may also soon see hybrid subscription programs where you can fulfill your commitment either through ecommerce shipments to the home or picking up your purchases in the store. All of these ways to reimagine convenience provide new opportunities to win the trip and grow the basket.

As you explore the right combination of these three potential CX innovation strategies, it’s helpful to also focus on whether you have the right insights to forge a deeper emotional connection with your customers. To amplify the impact of your experience design programs, it’s helpful to explore the “deep metaphors” that customers use to categorize their experiences. These underlying mental frameworks, typically unconscious, guide customer beliefs and behaviors throughout their journey. To truly connect with customers, align your CX design efforts with these deep metaphors, creating an "emotional motif" that resonates with customers at a deeper emotional level. For more on the concepts of deep metaphors and emotional motifs, see my blog series with Lou Carbone about Reimagining Insights here.

The goal is not to get customers to buy more only; it's to get them to love more so that you don’t have to buy loyalty. Emotional engagement is the key to enduring loyalty, and when customers fall in love with a brand, the transactions will naturally follow.

Up Next

In the next blog in this Amplify Innovation series, we will tackle the third problem statement in the exhibit you saw upfront: How do we build a D2C business that scales more profitably? We'll explore how the principles we discussed today can be applied to help brands cultivate meaningful, emotionally engaging relationships at scale. Stay tuned for more insights, and as always, feel free to start a conversation, or reach out to