From inflation to recession worries, 2022 has certainly kept marketers on their toes trying to keep up with the mood of consumers. The past few years have taught us — in stark and memorable terms — that we can’t predict the future. However, we can make educated guesses about the trends that are most likely to affect loyalty and customer relationship management.
Companies such as Ford, Enterprise Holdings, United, Dunkin’ and Marriott continue to invest in loyalty programs to build, maintain and most importantly, strengthen customer relationships that can weather any storm.
As we head into a new year, consider four key trends likely to have the greatest affect on CRM and loyalty in 2023 — plus immediate ways marketers can take advantage of these trends to create strong brand loyalty and drive revenue in the coming year.
1. Consumers will be hyper-focused on value
Many indicators suggest we may be looking at a tough couple of years ahead between recession and inflation. Brands with loyalty programs should lean into them to help their members’ dollars stretch further, and to keep customers engaged in-between purchase transactions.
Although many customers will be looking for ways to trim expenses in the coming year, if positioned co
rrectly, loyalty programs will remain a cost-effective way to keep your consumers returning. They can also demonstrate savings and provide the value your customers are seeking in a price-conscious environment.
- Offer redemption options at lower thresholds to appeal to a larger audience.
- Implement promotions around reward redemptions (e.g., redeem for one, get one 50% off).
- Consider whether a subscription model would work for your brand. A great example is Panera Bread’s Coffee Club membership program, introduced in 2020. For a monthly fee, members have unlimited access to coffee, a move that increased visit frequency and purchase sizes. Research shows that 30% of customers added a food item to their check. Additionally, this program helped them reach new customers, with 43% of subscribers reporting being new to the brand.
2. The future will embrace “phygital” experiences
There is no denying it — digitization has increased expectations for the customer experience. Brands must make it easy and convenient for customers to buy from them with tailored and easy-to-navigate experiences across all channels.
In 2023, we expect to see a huge opportunity for loyalty programs centered around the “phygital” retail experience in which elements of technology and reality coexist. Phygital experiences offer opportunities to bring your customers even closer to your brand through digitally enhanced shopping journeys that provide frictionless transitions across channels. This allows customers to interact with and purchase from your brand when, where and how they prefer.
This concept will be essential for all loyalty programs of the future because consumers no longer differentiate between a brand’s physical store and its digital presence. They want to interact with brands in store, online and in app based on their own preferences and convenience and they expect a consistent experience and uninterrupted service at every touch point.
- Create new types of brick-and-mortar locations that center on experience — places to curate enveloping interactions for consumers that cement their emotional connection to your brand.
- Build robust apps that allow consumers to seamlessly switch between digital and physical storefronts with features such as checking product reviews, inventory and prices; accessing program rewards; making contactless payments; and choosing among delivery and pickup options.
3. Consumers will keep expecting corporate social responsibility (CSR)
Brand purpose should be aligned with social purpose and should be clearly communicated to consumers. Brands are expected to embrace social consciousness and take a stand, not on every issue, but where there are opportunities to address specific pain points for their business. This is particularly true for the Gen Z, who also have the power to influence their Gen X parents and Boomer grandparents.
Automotive giant Ford is a great example. The company backed its commitment to creating a sustainable manufacturing industry in the US with a historic upfront investment in a new, ultra-efficient manufacturing campus in west Tennessee. As part of its long-term goal of carbon neutrality, Ford plans to meet science-based targets in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. Looking ahead, the brand expects 40% to 50% of its vehicles to be fully electric by 2030.
- Incentivize members to participate in your sustainability efforts, such as recycling, reselling, etc.
- Consider allowing program members to donate to a designated cause, perhaps with an incentive or at a more generous conversion rate.
- Open a dialogue with customers about how their actions can advance CSR efforts.
4. The employee engagement crisis continues
Companies have been using loyalty programs for years to attract and retain customers by creating strategies designed to communicate that their loyalty is valued — and that they’ll be rewarded for that loyalty. In today’s ultra-competitive labor market, similar strategies can be applied to workforce engagement to nurture and reward employee loyalty.
Harvard Business Review famously wrote that it costs far more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the same principle applies to talent management. In that case, shouldn’t organizations approach employee loyalty just like they approach customer loyalty?
- Personalization and recognition of valuable actions are at the core of all successful loyalty strategies and employers can offer employees both, every day.
- The little things really do matter. Create moments of surprise and delight, e.g., unexpected time off or a modest gift on an anniversary or birthday.
- Incentivize and measure performance. Every loyalty strategy should include measurement, whether it be engagement, spend or advocacy. Set realistic expectations and incentivize beyond those.
- Build an authentic community. Communicate frequently and be transparent in good times and bad. Identify brand advocates within your organization and allow them to lead. Influencers have far more trust within their communities than the company itself.
As you prepare for 2023 and navigate the rapid change we’ve all come to expect, keep these insights in mind. Understanding these trends and their potential impacts could give your loyalty and CRM efforts a strategic advantage.
Michelle Wildenauer, senior vice president of Strategic Services, leads loyalty and customer engagement strategy at The Lacek Group, an Ogilvy Experience company. She has developed customer strategy for global brands that include Marriott, Disney, Ford, American Family Insurance and Gap Inc. Michelle also leads the agency’s thought leadership and business development practices.
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