Why do you order Coke instead of Pepsi? Does Coke pay you? No, you pay Coke. You pay Coke for their product. It's a good product. You like the taste. You gladly pay them for it. As a result, you're a brand ambassador for Coke every time you order one in a restaurant, walk around with one in the office or open up your favorite beach umbrella emblazoned with the Coke logo.
Coke wins because it has you as a lifetime customer unless they really screw up, or you give up high fructose corn syrup. You win because you've found a brand experience that you value enough to consistently pay for, be a walking billboard for and trust for UV protection. Seems weird doesn't it?
It's the same with loyalty in sports. While most of us have never worn a jock strap in a Yankees uniform (yes, those of you in The Nation may substitute Red Sox), we gladly pay the Steinbrenners big money for the experience we have with their brand. They're damn sure not giving it away. We do it for the shared experience the moment Rivera closes out a game six and we feel a euphoric connectedness with other fans around the globe. The strange thing is – you're purchasing your own loyalty. To Coke. To the Yankees. To any brand.
In fact, the only way a brand purchases loyalty is in the workplace. If you go to work every day for a company, and you're not C-level, you're selling your time. Sure, you're selling it for a price and hopefully you consider it a fair price, but really – can it ever be? I mean, not only are you selling your time, you're selling your loyalty. No? Really? Ok then, let's say that you're a copywriter for a big ad agency in NYC. You have a great salary, bust your ass 10 hours a day (ok, so writing copy isn't exactly something I'd put in the 'busting ass' bucket, but you know what I mean) and you have a sweet apartment a block from the 4 train. You're happy. And you're totally loyal to your employer. Then one day, as fate would have it, an agency in San Francisco comes calling. It's a better offer with a more money, better accounts, more perks, etc.
Where's your loyalty? I'll tell you where it is – it's in SF. Yes, I could write a ton of contingencies that make it so the copywriter stays in NYC, but for this argument, my guy moved to SF, ok? However, in every other business application, loyalty cannot be purchased. Only earned. If you want lifetime customers, you make a great product and back it up with great service. Show people you care. Prove it. Again and again. In business, the only way to develop loyalty is to fulfill promises. And that takes time.
Except, now that we have social media, it takes a lot *less* time. In the old days, if you wanted to sell product, you'd pay an ad agency to create a kick-ass campaign and flood the market with your call-to-action. Only, the best that this kind of communication can ever do is give commands. Sure, the ads would probably be clever, and the media well-placed, but it's still just a call-to-action. You put it out there – and hope.
Social offers the opportunity to engage people directly. Directly! It's such a different idea that people struggle to wrap their minds around it and instead drive over to the gadget store to focus on tools that help brands monitor when people say things about them. This is the opposite of active. Yet, when you take a look around a Twitter stream filled with thought-leaders, gurus and experts – you notice that most of them talk about the tools, and how to manage, track and concatenate data flow. Yes, many of these tools are necessary to augment a social communications strategy, and a lot of them *are* pretty cool, but too few people of influence talk about the actual dialogue between a brand and its prospects and customers. What happened to the thing about brands nurturing loyalty?
Dear brands, this isn't brain surgery. If you're going to be in social, do more than tell us how great you are, and intercept people when they have a questionable brand experience. Why not follow your customers? This is the chance you've been waiting for! Dump your upcoming direct mail campaign, and employ a direct engagement campaign here instead (no one reads your junk mail anyway). Put your resources into people who work for you and who are already (paid to be) loyal to you and who can can seek out and interact with people who will become so loyal to you that they will tell other people about their own positive experience with your brand. You know, like word of mouth (that thing they tell you is the 'best' kind of advertising).
Loyalty. It's just as confusing now as when Oedipus struggled with it.
Jim is a father, husband, copywriter and parter at smashcommunications – a communications consultancy that's shifting with the rest of the world to social media as a primary means of audience interaction. You can follow him on Twitter @smashadv