Sept 2022

Loyalty vs the Cost-of-Living

In a time when everyone is thinking more acutely about how and where they spend their money, how can brands continue to engender loyalty from customers? When everything is transactional how do you get people to love your product or brand? Chief Strategy Officer at M&C Saatchi London, Sophie Lewis, gives her thoughts on why it should be simply about giving back, no strings attached. 

I recently took the kids to the cinema to see E.T last Sunday (National Cinema Day in the UK, who knew?) and it was supposedly £3 each, but with the online booking fee it cost more, and then I spent another £9 on popcorn and drinks. Aside from it being a brilliant film, it also got me thinking about the real meaning of loyalty.

From the moment the ball is thrown from the shed and their first meeting, Elliott and E.T. are firm friends. They are joined, of course, by some cosmic force, but they care for each other. They help each other to the point that E.T. sacrifices himself to make Elliott well again.

Now I am not suggesting that Brands need to exhibit this level of commitment to their consumers, but I do think taking a step back and considering what the word loyalty really means is of use. 

“A strong feeling of support or allegiance”

Note, no mention of it being conditional.

As humans, we do things for each other. We support each other. We are unwavering in our support, and this becomes even more important when times are tough. In sickness and in health, and all that. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. 

And of course, we are surrounded by brands suggesting they are currently helping us out. They tell us they are doing things to save us money, usually in the form of money-off specific products. 

But wait! Are they really helping us? Are they acting with real generosity and genuine good intent?

As the economic situation worsens, we are seeing the early demise of the categories we don’t need, that haven’t demonstrated loyalty to us. The lucky ones of us are going down the standing orders and direct debits and stopping those we don’t need. 

The unlucky ones of us having to make impossible decisions between heating and eating or having to go into expensive debt just to survive.

The use of cash has resurfaced (because it’s there, in my hand and I, therefore, feel in control of what I am spending).

We found out recently in some research that no one could be bothered to use a ‘loyalty’ card for an impulse/convenience food retailer because they didn’t ‘get anything’. It wasn’t worth the 10 seconds to take it out of their wallet when they shopped because what they bought wasn’t big enough to stimulate decent rewards.

I feel that with pretty much every ‘loyalty’ card in my wallet (and I have them all). Boots is the best, as we all know. Superdrug, Tesco etc. I could go on. I have a Sainsbury’s Nectar Card and use it, but only because of history and the amount that is sitting on there and which I am saving for a rainy day (25% off six on champagne for my ‘special’ birthday next year). 

The thing that strikes me in a situation of this level of gravity is the importance of understanding and empathy. How are people really feeling and how is their spending power being affected by the price of electricity, food and petrol?

And then as a brand, how can you really help them? What can we afford to give them in order to show we are loyal to them. This is the ‘in sickness’ bit of ‘in sickness and in health’. How can we help them choose our product? How can brands be loyal to people, rather than the other way around?

And don’t make the ‘help’ tricksy or difficult. Don’t make them work too hard for it. 

The FMCG-ers are in a tricky situation, largely because their costs are going up and so they are charging more for less.

I tried very hard to think of a brand that was really ‘helping me’ today. 

Actually helping me, not packaging up stuff to make it look like it was helping me.

Travel? No, prices have gone up.

Gym membership? Same price but no contact from the brand. Inwardly thinking about dumping it.

Hmm, there’s nothing much jumping out at me. 

In Tesco, kids can eat for free if I spend as little as 60p. Yep, that’s good. 

I am also a fan of the ASDA Just Essentials range. It’s easy to spot in-store and relatively easy to buy due to the price point.

I would urge brands to think about loyalty in its truest sense rather than intellectualise it. Do something for people that really helps them. Think about things that they really need. Think about giving them something, not to get something back, but because it’s a good thing to do and everyone needs bit of help.

And reap the rewards when we’re all back on our feet. That’s loyalty.