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Engaging in Audience Loyalty

Developing a retention strategy

Having your audience be loyal to your organisation, brand, event, and what have you, is one of the most valuable commodities that you can have as a business. And yet despite that value, it seems that many feel that it is a right that is accorded to them, rather than a privilege that is earned.

Naturally of course it goes both ways, the company should also be loyal to its audience. At the end of the day, to have a good audience engagement strategy, the relationship (goals) needs to be aligned and symbiotic. A company cannot expect its audience to be loyal to them for nothing, and the audience should not expect a company’s loyalty for nothing.

To add another dimension to this is employee loyalty, to both the organisation they work for and the audience they interact with. The employee is the particle of the company’s waveform when it interacts with the outside world of the audience.

I felt that there was a need to write a piece about audience loyalty, after a few recent experiences where my interactions with organisations were less than optimal and my previous loyalty to them is now in question. I, therefore, wondered how the situation could have been handled differently by them, myself and the employees that represent them.

For context, the specific recent experiences involved travelling, which at the time of writing this piece, is still a bit of a mess. But despite the overall issues of a diminished workforce that impacts the regular working volume of various companies, there is an inherent and likely endemic issue that has arisen over the past few years. Especially when it comes to retaining your audience and their loyalty to your brand and organisation.

Now I do not wish to name and shame, that is not the intention of this piece. But I will name the companies that I dealt with as a customer. Not to shame them, as there are many positives to them and those that work for them. But rather the reason I wish to name them is to have the option of giving concrete examples and hopefully solutions to them as well, so that they do not lose any more of their loyal customers.

Questioning loyalties

My particular story starts with a recent trip to the UK from Germany, flying with EasyJet and using Deutsch Bahn to get to and from the airport. Now I won’t bore you with the minute details of the trip or the overall issue that the delays and cancellations caused. But in essence, my flight back from the UK to Germany was delayed by a significant amount of time in the evening. Which meant our transportation from the airport to our home required changing and using a train, which was also delayed. This final delay meant that we missed the last local train home in the early morning.

Now obviously there are a great many personal irritations that occurred with this, but that has very little to do with overall audience loyalty to a company. No, rather the issue at hand is how the overall experience and subsequent interactions were dealt with by the respective companies.

As stated, there are of course a great many obstacles around when travelling, that these companies have no control over. A lack of workforce, unruly passengers, and so on. And they, of course, cannot compensate every single person who has an issue, this would be a terrible financial model for any company.

But the current strategy that they have in place when dealing with problems, complaints and issuing a request for information/compensation is incredibly impersonal and leaves their audiences, in this case me, somewhat ignored and alienated from the whole interaction.

It is this bad interaction that led me to wonder how it could be done differently and better. How could an organisation show they ‘care’, without having to spend millions or try to solve problems outside of their control? Because at the moment what I’m left with, and many others in the audience, are empty platitudes that are akin to the statement of our “thoughts and prayers are with you”. And in all honesty, stating something like that is pure bullshit.

The next worst step is to then as an organisation shift the blame and say that it wasn’t your fault, it was due to someone or something else. This strategy is widely used, it, however, falls short when it deals with situations where everything runs according to a pre-determined plan created by the organisation. One cannot say that trains or planes are delayed due to heavy traffic, like on a highway. I’m sure the aviation authorities and trains know how many there will be, as they also sold tickets for these. And it is also a matter of safety, as unknowns are a danger, especially in the aviation industry.

Some of this can be seen as trying to oversimplify what is (likely) a very complex issue. I am not an insider so I do not know all the internal problems that these companies face. But obfuscating statements that simply say that this is the way it is and that we as the audience should have known better, or expected it, or planned for it, is not a good solution either. As it also erodes trust between the audience and your organisation.

So, what can organisations and brands do to better alleviate the issue of audience alienation and loss of loyalty?

An audience engagement solution

A larger solution strategy is required to ensure audience loyalty when such difficulties and problems happen as described above.

And there is no single solution that will work for everyone, unfortunately. But there is something to be said about the small gesture that is consistent across your audience base. And there is also the idea of a visible loyalty program and an invisible loyalty program.

A visible loyalty program is one we all know and love or loathe. This is where your audience can see the rewards that their continued interaction and ‘loyalty’ will give them. It’s still a very powerful tool, especially when gamified.

The invisible loyalty program uses the mechanics and motivators of surprise, mystery and curiosity. The audience isn’t overtly aware of the invisible program, but they do feel the effects of it.

The invisible one is also not dependent on long-term loyalty, though it should reward that as well. The purpose of an invisible loyalty program is to reward simple loyalty, be that for a single interaction, a few interactions or a great many interactions over a longer period.

Having an invisible loyalty program in place as an organisation you can already take into account the budget and cost of maintaining it. A very simple example of the invisible loyalty program concept is the free drink at the end of a meal at a restaurant. You as the customer went to the restaurant to have a meal, regardless of the overall experience, good, bad or mediocre, the owner or otherwise offers you a small drink at the end of the meal, on the house (i.e. free). Now, this is a small gesture that has long-term ramifications on your impression of the restaurant. Unless the food was truly inedible, your experience will be left on a high thanks to getting a small glass of some kind of free alcohol/drink.

Now, this free drink has already been calculated into the restaurant’s cost and budget. And the volume at which they purchase these makes the cost almost negligible, but the good faith it can generate in a (loyal) customer is priceless. And the customer is never aware of this, not really at least. They are now more likely to return to the restaurant because their perception has been influenced positively.

It must be said though that this small gesture must be accompanied by actual good service, a holistic plan to offer the best service possible within reason and budget. There’s no point offering a free drink at the end of the meal if the food was inedible and the orders were wrong and it took longer to order the food than it would have to grow from scratch. However, if that type of negative experience is solitary, then the free drink as a way of apology and compensation can also have a strong positive influence.

What I want to illustrate with this analogy or parable is that a well-thought-out, planned and crafted loyalty program, both visible and invisible can do wonders for your organisation, and it does not need to cost exorbitant amounts of money to make it a reality.

And we haven’t even touched upon engagement strategies like gamification that can even further improve your audience’s view of you. Nor have we looked at where else such solutions could work, for example at conferences or other virtual and live events.

Final thoughts

Retaining audience loyalty is never easy, especially in the current climate, with extreme volatility, increasing prices and your audience’s attention being torn in a thousand different directions.

But this should also not be a reason to not care, simply because there are so many to take the place of a lost audience member is not a good strategy. And I use the term audience member instead of customer here because it isn’t only the customer it is also the employee. The above loyalty suggestions should also be implemented for employees. The cost of losing customers and employees is a coffin nail for your organisation. Caring for each audience member is an invaluable long-term business strategy.

And crafting strong, flexible and holistic engagement strategies in whatever experience it is, be it travel, education, shopping, conferences, or even government or municipal institutions, will always be a worthwhile investment. Especially now, where every audience member and their continued loyalty to you can make the difference between success and being left out in the cold.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Do check out the other posts on æ, and do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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