4 Takeaways from the 2017 ANA Brand Activation Relationship Marketing Conference

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Last week, the Social Media Link team attended the ANA Brand Activation Relationship Marketing Conference held at Target’s headquarters in Minneapolis, as we joined over 100 marketing pros to discuss the changing landscape of loyalty marketing. What did we hear the most? That brand loyalty is complicated. We also had the chance to share our take on how to create scalable loyalty through branded communities, as Seventh Generation joined our CEO to discuss their community: Generation Good

If you weren't able to attend the conference, don’t sweat it. Here’s a recap of our favorite takeaways. 

1. Brands Should Focus on Building Long-term Relationships

The way consumers interact with brands is changing - and that means the way marketers choose to build relationships with consumers must also change. It’s no longer just about proving short-term revenue, but about how a long-term relationship with consumers can continuously increase the value of a company. 

Justin Tidmarsh, Senior Director of Marketing at Best Buy, stated that “loyalty is becoming less defined by a rigid program.” Companies are no longer focusing solely on the transactional piece of loyalty programs, but rather building a better consumer experience and creating a larger ecosystem to engage with buyers. The goal is to convince consumers to identify themselves and create exclusivity. 

Best Buy’s approach to creating this larger ecosystem is through delivering personalized experiences and relevant moments for their consumers. Through Best Buy’s loyalty program, their team is able to see when an item was purchased and the type of item purchased. From there, consumers are offered special member pricing and gated offers to promote cross-category purchases. 

“It’s about building long-term relationships with individual customers and brought to life with member benefits that differentiate and personalize Best Buy for everyone.”

2. Seek Consumer Opinions When Possible

It’s no surprise that consumers love to feel special, especially when it’s through providing feedback to brands they know and love. In fact, “83 percent of consumers said they would be more loyal to a brand if they knew that brand would act on their feedback and make improvements.”   

When Amtrak decided to revamp their loyalty rewards program, they asked their consumers for feedback on which aspects of the program worked and which needed to be redesigned.Given the physical nature of the service Amtrak provides, another key goal was enhancing the customer experience throughout all aspects of the consumer’s journey. 

The easiest way to understand what travelers wanted in the new loyalty program was to ask consumers themselves. Amtrak found travelers were unhappy with its technology, including booking travel or modifying trips, the redemption structure for points, and most of all: the ability to earn points quickly. In relaunching their rewards program with the customer in mind first, Amtrak has seen an overwhelming positive response from travelers, as well as an increase in point redemption and overall acquisition in the loyalty program. 

“We are confident this program combines what passengers want most – the ability to grow points earnings rapidly with the freedom to use those points in the way that best fits their individual travel needs,” said Matt Hardison, Executive VP of Marketing and Sales.

3. Brands Need to Tell More Stories

We’re in an age where all brands are competing against an abundance of products. Coupons and promotions are a great way to grab immediate attention for a quick, one-time purchase, but these tactics will not earn consumer loyalty. Instead, Tony Effik, Senior VP of Client Strategy at NBCUniversal, says consumers must first buy into a product’s story before they can become loyal: “Stories that move the heart are also stories that move the market.”

However, no story, or any other marketing campaign for that matter, will work without technology behind it. Effik claims we are looking at loyalty in the wrong way. We must look at it from both a rational standpoint (machine thinking) and an emotional standpoint (magic thinking). Rational loyalty techniques like transactional offers drive purchases, but emotional loyalty techniques like transformational stories maintain brand beliefs so your brand can win the next purchase interval. 

4. Today’s Loyalty Programs are Missing an Emotional Connection

There’s no doubt marketers consider loyalty programs a critical part of their brand strategy. However, for many brands, traditional loyalty programs have become nothing more than a transactional experience driven by purchase behavior, lacking the crucial emotional connection that delivers long-term loyalty and ultimately, advocacy. In the crowded loyalty space, marketers must rethink consumer relationships and how to make them meaningful for each individual. 

For all-natural cleaning and personal care products company Seventh Generation, that meant creating a home for brand advocates, which allows a two-way relationship between consumers and the brand. Because of the emotional connection created, Seventh Generation is able to use their Generation Good community to activate members to advocate for the brand. As Seventh Generation’s senior digital manager said, “I couldn’t believe the things we would see from members unprompted. Our number one driver for our product reviews is this online community. The takeaway is really good content that’s not just brand-focused and a myriad of ways for people to engage with and use that is really the key to success. ” 

Brand loyalty is and will continue to be a challenge. While traditional efforts will succeed in some ways, there are major gaps. Today, marketers must be sure to build emotional connections with consumers and help them achieve emotional drivers that motivate sustained affinity and purchase. 

Did you attend ANA’s August Brand Activation Relationship Marketing Conference? We want to hear about your favorite insights and learnings! Tweet us @sml360. To see full presentations from the conference speakers, visit the ANA’s site

Katie TakacsTwitterLinkedIn

Katie is the Marketing Coordinator at Social Media Link. She assists in the content creation and strategy for digital and social marketing efforts aimed at building awareness around Social Media Link’s offerings and impact.