At a certain point in a successful brand’s lifetime, its priorities tend to shift from customer acquisition to retention. This isn’t because new customers cease to be the focus. What shifts is the approach to growth. By keeping its core base engaged and active—and giving loyal ambassadors the tools they need to work on its behalf—a brand can focus on developing more loyal, lasting bonds with consumers.
Over the last several years, however, the lines between acquisition and ongoing engagement have begun blurring. Brands have started to introduce opportunities for engagement earlier in their customer relationships. In 2016, we’ll see even more brands maximize their efforts to engage consumers as soon as the first transaction. They’ll dedicate greater resources to activating existing customers, introducing creative ways to attract new patrons, and offering more engaging tactics to reinforce loyalty.
The following are five predictions that brands will adopt to drive loyalty in 2016:
1. Brands will specifically target Centennials to develop long-term relationships.
Teens ages 17 and under are known as Centennials (or Generation Z). Not only do they represent about $44 billion in spending power, they’re also more susceptible to thoughtful marketing, which brands want to nurture with hopes of securing loyalty early in life.
Centennials are more likely to connect to specific products than with the companies or brands themselves. This means that brands can no longer rely as strongly on their good name to appeal to this generation. They need to introduce cohesive product marketing strategies for individual products—essentially treating each as a mini brand. Brand equity is still important—after all, more than three-fifths of this young generation says that when it finds a brand it likes, it sticks with it. There’s now just another layer of discernment that must influence how marketers approach this audience.
2. Brands will let consumers be even more social on their behalf.
Even the brands that have historically been the most controlling over their messaging are loosening the reigns in response to the demands of consumer-controlled media. Social media, specifically, has changed the dynamic between brands and customers. The very people that brands are trying to appeal to are now also the ones controlling those very channels.
Knowing that 84% of decision makers start their buying process with a referral from a trusted peer, brands now leverage the social influence of their most dedicated customers, as well as those who are most popular with their target audiences.
Instagram takeovers—instances where brands temporarily turn their social media channel(s) over to an influencer—have become a popular tactic. During a takeover, the influencer shares the brand perspective through his or her eyes, offer a creative spin. The resulting posts often demonstrate aspirational applications of the brand’s products, such as how to wear a certain style of shirt or use a CPG product in a meal. These posts aren’t just a genuine endorsement for the brand, they act as a stepping-stone to loyalty.
3. Customers want recognition for engagement, not just purchases.
Loyalty programs have traditionally rewarded customers with points for their purchases, but as these programs evolve, consumers want to be recognized for their engagement with brands, too. This includes things like tweeting about a brand, recommending it to friends, watching videos, reading blog posts, and other activities.
As a result, more brands will begin restructuring their loyalty programs to positively reinforce these valuable forms of engagement. Engagement is not only crucial to creating organic brand awareness and driving customer acquisition. When properly executed, it has the power to turn browsing experiences into repetitive purchases.
4. Wearable technology will become a more ubiquitous vehicle for loyalty.
Many marketers are trying to determine the best ways to integrate wearable technology into their 2016 plans. Wearables (such as wristbands) give companies the ability to send relevant messaging based on location, movement, and lifestyle, without the need of a mobile device. They also offer convenience and improve experiences, such as quicker payment options, speedier checkout, and access to deals and discounts.
Disney is ahead of the curve when it comes to integrating wearables into its efforts. The brand recently introduced its own wearable “MagicBand,” which gives users access to its FastPass+ (a service that allows customers to reserve access to select attractions, entertainment, and more before arriving at its parks). The device also offers entry to hotel rooms and lets users buy food and merchandise, as well as unlock special surprises.
5. Multi-brand loyalty programs will grow in popularity.
Customers view loyalty programs as a way to save money and be rewarded for interacting with the brands they already value. Now, they’re becoming a vehicle for customers to discover brands they might not have otherwise known about.
Programs that offer discounts, rewards, and other incentives from a collection of brands, as opposed to just one, are quickly growing in popularity. These “coalition programs” give members the convenience of shopping with multiple partner brands and offer a consistent loyalty experience by letting members redeem points within the same program.
Going forward, many brands will begin exploring partnership opportunities with non-competing companies rather than introducing their own proprietary loyalty programs. Together, these companies offer greater value, influence more meaningful customer engagement, and differentiate themselves in the marketplace.