Author: Scott Weller, SVP Product, Merchant Loyalty at SessionM, a Mastercard company
Brands today continue to face a multitude of pandemic-related challenges – like shipping delays and supply chain disruptions – that have fundamentally altered the way they engage with their consumers. Pre-pandemic approaches to engagement no longer resonate with the current state of the world, especially when it comes to consumer loyalty. It is possible to understand the consumer beyond points and services, tapping into their brand preferences and emotional drivers. Loyalty is an outcome of effective product design and customer experience, which drives an emotional connection. While traditional points and rewards remain a key component of loyalty programs, brands that have shifted their approach to enable more personalized, meaningful experiences are the brands that have seen the most success.
Enter the era of empathetic engagement: using data-driven insights about marketplace trends to deliver a dynamic and lasting consumer experience. By marrying a responsible data-driven approach with utility, brands can connect with consumers before, during and after a purchase, allowing them to demonstrate their investment in the customer relationship, not just the transaction at hand. With empathy at the forefront of strategy, brands can create long-term relationships that also drive the bottom line.
Out with the Old, In with the New
Marketers that engage in ‘prey and spray’ tactics – sending blanketed communications to diverse and unique consumer groups and expecting to see a return on their investment – are not only ineffective, but can also be brand damaging in the long term. Those tactics don’t take into consideration how today’s consumers are facing messaging overload and increasingly tightened budgets. Instead, brands need to adapt marketing strategies with consumer’s evolving needs. Incorporating meaningful touchpoints into the purchase lifecycle, such as sharing a how-to video based on a past purchase or checking in for feedback following a sale, can make the difference in establishing a thoughtful relationship built on emotional connection.
Transparency & Honesty: The Golden Ticket
Supply chain disruptions are an opportunity to get back to the basics. It may sound simple, but in these moments, they can gain customer loyalty through transparent two-way communications. By addressing expected delays directly and upfront, brands empower customers to be in control of their purchase and buy some goodwill. No one’s first choice is to purchase an item with a 6-week lead time, but a consumer is much more likely to accept a delay if they know to expect it from the beginning.
Insights: Your Secret Weapon
Personalization has historically been focused on the context of the customer’s needs, wants and preferences. What rapid digital transformation has exposed is that operational data is becoming more important in informing empathetic, impactful engagement. We’ve seen that data has the potential to fuel innovation, but only if data practices are upheld. Brands must ensure they are aligned with back-end operations teams to gain insight into where in the journey they can most effectively, and appropriately, improve consumer experience. For example, with the knowledge that U.S. consumers are experiencing rising costs across the board, a brand could check which states are experiencing the highest shipping costs and offer a special discount to help relieve the burden – a simple yet effective way to show up for the consumer.
Empathy is a necessary pre-requisite to credibility, which brands risk by not understanding their consumers’ needs and wants, and not contextualizing the consumer experience to what’s happening outside of the purchase journey. With 74% of consumers stating they are more likely to buy from brands that provide excellent care according to a recent Mastercard report, brands should turn to empathetic engagement to fulfill the utility criteria of a consumer who wants to be in control of their experience. Investing in consumer relationships can be as simple as providing individualized suggestions based on past purchases, or as sophisticated as suggesting a rain jacket to a consumer whose hometown is expecting a rainy week or connecting a consumer with a charitable cause they care about.
Brands who operate with empathy are poised to be more relevant and useful to their consumers. As rapid digital transformation persists and consumer expectations continue to shift, building empathetic engagement into your loyalty strategy demonstrates your commitment to building a mutually beneficial, long-term relationship.