Monday, August 29, 2011

Taking a Bullet for Your Association

There's a really critical lesson for association professionals in this guest post on Hugh MacLeod's blog from Kathy Sierra. In it, she challenges the traditional wisdom many organizations have for customer loyalty programs.

“Customer Loyalty” is a figment. Business “Loyalty Programs” are nothing more than rewards-based marketing. And by rewards (aka “incentives”), I mean bribes. That we so easily refer to a customer with a bagel punch card or virtual badge as more “loyal” is an example of just how far we’ve allowed corporations to abuse the language around human relationships.

Loyalty, Sierra argues, is not something customers have for the products they love, but for the way those products help them better realize their own potential and their own vision of who and what they want to be.

The key to understanding (and ultimately benefitting from) true “customer loyalty” is to recognize and respect that customers–as people– are deeply loyal to themselves and those they love, but not to products and brands. They are loyal to their own values and the (relatively few) people and causes they truly believe in. What looks and feels like loyalty to a product, brand, company, etc. is driven by what that product, service, brand says about who we are and what we value.

In making this distinction, Sierra (half jokingly) talks about "taking a bullet" for the products and services customers are supposedly loyal to. No one, she argues, would rush into a burning building to rescue their iPad, but people would risk their lives to save that sense of who they want to be and the essential tools that help them get there.

Reading the post made me think about my own association and my members. Would any of them "take a bullet" for the organization that employs me? Some would, I think, yes. I have some passionately loyal members, and I suspect you do, too. But like Sierra says, they wouldn't take the bullet for any of the programs or services we provide. Their loyalty is not to our products, but to the way the association can help them realize a better vision of themselves and their industry.

Think about that the next time you're writing marketing copy for your membership brochure.

Image source


Jeffrey Cufaude said...

This resonates with me a lot. I'm much more likely to overlook or put up with product or service shortcomings when I am connected to and believe deeply in an organization's purpose or cause. In fact, instead of just complaining about the flew, it makes me want to jump in and help correct it since I am invested in the larger community and what it is trying to accomplish.

Eric Lanke said...

Exactly, Jeffrey. That's real loyalty. We talked about this some in the WSAE white paper on innovation, saying that an association that enjoyed that kind of member loyalty should be willing to take more risks, because it has such a deep and forgiving bench to draw from. It's not something an association would want to abuse, but knowing that it has a group of champions willing to dive in, it should be willing to push a few boundaries. In fact, wouldn't those deeply loyal members want it to do exactly that?

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