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Phil Wickenden: Building loyal clients is not all about brand

Phil WickendenFar too many advertising and selling initiatives communicate a diatribe of product ‘features’, not offering much by way of distinctive value or any focused or truly compelling benefit.

This is despite customers not wanting to be spammed with information about a product or service. They want to feel the connection with it.

The point of a brand personality is to create an emotional attachment to your business and, therefore, create a loyal and happy relationship with your customers. Great marketers do not make stuff; they make meaning.

Every brand must have a story, otherwise it is just a logo. The story includes expectations and history, promises, social cues and emotions. It is the story that makes us react.

Yet when we asked advisers to talk freely about the words and feelings they associate with providers and platforms, there was little reaction: three-quarters of prompts remained blank, which speaks volumes.

Empty and plain are not particularly attractive

“Blank: unrelieved by decorative or other features; bare, empty or plain,” says the Oxford dictionary. The point is that empty and plain is not particularly attractive. The responses we did capture remained functional, relating to cost, product suitability, administrative efficiency et al. All things that are of themselves important but are unlikely to build loyalty – or at least the loyalty you want, because there
are two kinds.

First, the loyalty of convenience. This means the product works, the service is fine and there is no compelling reason for change.

The customer will look around, sure, but probably will not switch because it is risky and time consuming. Switching means a new account manager or new platform and processes, which we all avoid unless we have to. Interestingly, most businesses are getting ever better at building this sort of loyalty.

The problem with the loyalty of convenience, though, is that the customer is always tempted to look elsewhere and the vendor is always working to build barriers – barriers that do not necessarily increase satisfaction but merely build a wall of hassle around the customer.

Then there is another kind of loyalty. One that transcends price and product features (within reason). This is the loyalty of someone who sees beyond a few basis points here and there because they are as committed to the relationship as the provider. And this is a rare, rare thing.

Phil Wickenden is managing director at Cicero Research

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