PMG Digital Made for Humans

How Brands Can Improve Customer Loyalty

September 6, 2023 | 5 min read

Author's headshot

Julianne Manoogian, Senior Principal

Julianne is a Senior Principal on PMG’s Strategy Team with over 15 years of experience in the industry. While often tapped for her expertise in Loyalty and CRM, Julianne focuses on tailoring strategies to the constantly evolving consumer and has a passion for driving business results through compelling, full-funnel engagement strategies across channels and lifecycle phases.

In this article, PMG's senior principal of consulting, Julianne Manoogian, explores how brand executives can improve customer loyalty while accelerating overall brand love and business growth. With more brands investing heavily in digital transformation, customer loyalty is a critical focus, and Julianne’s unique approach and expertise have helped countless brands and retailers develop a lasting foundation for growing customer loyalty.

Keeping track of and implementing the most impactful brand and business-strengthening initiatives is significantly challenging in today’s world. Budgets shift, new platforms emerge, consumer behavior changes and brand marketers are tasked with juggling all these developments and more while growing their brand and customer base.

It requires being agile while identifying and embracing the various avenues consumers can take to engage with the brand. To best support customer loyalty and overall brand love—and ultimately, protect scalable business health—leaders must consider how the brand is represented throughout the entire marketing funnel, in all relevant channels, all the time. 

More often than ever before, brands are connecting with customers beyond their product purchases in an effort to drive repeat engagement and emotional loyalty. New opportunities for adding value to customers’ lives have only accelerated in the past few years, whether it be through more convenience and time-savings via buy online pick-up in-store (BOPIS), fostering a sense of community among niche audiences, or creating new experiences, content, and virtual or in-person events.

More often than ever before, brands are connecting with customers beyond their product purchases in an effort to drive repeat engagement and emotional loyalty.

These ‘customer delight’ opportunities can serve as a force multiplier for customer retention and loyalty, as they simultaneously push the envelope on customer expectations for brands across verticals, regardless of digital transformation maturity. In other words, people now have much higher expectations of the brands they shop for, and they expect a more personalized, seamless experience.

CMOs and brand marketing executives are frequently tasked with balancing long-term, sustainable brand-building initiatives alongside immediate and measurable revenue drivers. Executing a long list of initiatives that can immediately drive sales often results in missing the forest for the trees. 

Not all customers are equal, and there can be a significant variance between the types of loyal customers depending on how they are defined by the brand. For example, some brands view short-term purchase behavior as the main indicator of loyalty, while factors that may be more complex to measure, such as lifetime value and emotional affinity, are less of a priority for the organization.

This emphasis on short-term behavior may risk proper awareness of long-term business health indicators. Brands that engage in this behavior may overcommit to serving the customers who come in the door because of a steep promotion or email/SMS opt-in, but inevitably, those people can turn into margin killers rather than truly loyal customers.

Developing a sustainable strategy to increase brand awareness and pull more customers through the funnel is a delicate endeavor to balance with business health and scalable customer growth objectives. 

Leading a customer-centric organization isn’t just about ensuring every possible customer who interacts with the brand is set up for a great experience. Instead, customer-centric CMOs should focus the majority of their efforts on high-value and high-potential growth segments. Ideally, these are evaluated on a variety of dimensions and share close alignment with the broader, long-term business strategy.

Evaluating resources and making business decisions strategically based on these core customer groups can help cultivate greater innovation in a way that supports future-proofing the brand and strengthening the overall business. 

Consider the systems, data, and technology that powers brand messaging and presence in the market. How do consumers interact with the brand? What do they see? Answers to these questions are especially important, as research suggests brand loyalty and customer experience are becoming synonymous in the minds of consumers.

In one survey, 63 percent of U.S. consumers reported that “a poor experience is enough of a reason to leave a brand they were previously loyal to,” while Insider Intelligence found that 88 percent of consumers agreed that “the experience a company provides is as important as its product or services.” 

Organizations may find it challenging to prioritize the most impactful enhancements to the customer experience amid a running list of initiatives and competing priorities, but equipping leaders with data-backed hypotheses can make things a lot easier. Clean, connected, up-to-date, and secure customer data is a non-negotiable for achieving success in today’s market. The closer brand marketing executives are to how that data gets brought to life and informs decision-making (via CRM systems, visualization technology, measurement tools, and more), the more connected brand stories can be to individual customer journeys. 

Advocating for contextual data storytelling from the perspective of brand touchpoints can help inspire new and better ways to serve key customer groups and improve their experience with the brand. Contextual data applications can even surface new initiatives to effectively reduce low points (i.e., uncertainty around package arrival times) during the customer journey while elevating stronger points (i.e., personalized product unboxing support), making a lasting impact on the bottom line.

Start by asking:

  • Does your organization have a plan to address any tech debt or sub-optimal processes that hinder how customers experience the brand? 

  • Are existing data systems adequately powering more frequent customer interactions?

  • Do data science teams have the tools to develop and mature modeling capabilities to inform expedited paths to the next action in the marketing funnel? 

  • How does the business prioritize technology enhancements in the context of evaluating customer-facing, brand-building experiences? 

In short, brand marketing executives must be aware of how customers can achieve more personalized journeys and, in turn, contribute to the technology and data pillars used across the organization to help power reimagined customer journeys that contribute to long-term loyalty.

It’s important to focus on new emerging trends and innovation selectively and in parallel with best-in-class adoption and optimization practices. For example, showing up in the metaverse and launching an NFT collection can be an exciting way to expand a brand’s reach and support brand love, but equally important is the ability to deliver great experiences for customers in key parts of their interactions with the brand, especially in more traditional, popular mediums. 

Insider Intelligence reports over 40 percent of consumers in the U.S. and Canada said they’ve stopped doing business with companies that did a poor job personalizing the customer experience, up from 25 percent who said the same in 2019. Meanwhile, brand expectations in the metaverse are still being evaluated. Based on a recent Insider Intelligence study, sixty-one percent of U.S. young adults have a negative view of the metaverse or have never even heard of it. 

It’s important to focus on new emerging trends and innovation selectively and in parallel with best-in-class adoption and optimization practices.

Staying on top of the latest trends and opportunities within the industry is undeniably an important part of expanding reach and evolving the brand, as it can be hyper-relevant for connecting with certain audiences.

Of course, at the same time, brand executives must balance innovative ‘bets’ with ensuring their organization is also well positioned to meet and exceed the expectations for personalization maturity that consumers demand today.

If a brand isn’t on the ideal side of the personalization maturity scale relative to its industry and customer expectations, any innovative, headline-grabbing activations in the metaverse or elsewhere will only be hampered by an inability to keep a healthy amount of customers retained.

Aside from the ever-evolving consumer and loyalty marketing landscape, I’m especially interested in the concept of data democratization. Customer data platforms and tools help marketers, CX leaders, and executives in the C-suite better understand customers and their behavior, and those insights are becoming more essential to businesses at every level.

This has long been a passion of mine and I’ll never forget sitting alongside a database programmer 10+ years ago to troubleshoot a customer experience challenge I was helping solve. Learning how data gets pulled into customer-facing experiences and the weight of that opportunity—and responsibility—was one the simplest yet most substantial ‘ah-ha’ moments of my career. 

Today, I enjoy observing (and helping) ideate how brands can authentically provide value to customers in new ways by activating first- and zero-party data. For example, when Chipotle asked customers, “Do you want to see more gaming content?” during its Halo Infinite Challenge launch campaign; when Nordstrom recently launched Brand Notifications on its mobile app, boasting daily updates on new arrivals in-store for brand customers to opt into; or how Nike’s robust ‘Following’ interface in-app allows customers to add specific sports, athletic teams, product lines, athletes, and cities of interest to their Nike feed, all enabling a foundation for crafting a fully-curated experience for Nike customers.

These brand experiences are equal parts art and science as the customer feels catered to and in control of their data. Meanwhile, I know from experience that the launch of these features is the result of countless hours and close collaboration between traditionally disparate areas of the brand organization.

Bridging the divide between business teams across national and international retailers and consumer brands to deliver insights and strategic improvements to the brand is one of the most exciting aspects of our role as consultants and something I see playing a bigger role in strengthening customer loyalty in the future.