The Relevance of Branding in CRM

Last week a peer of mine who works at a CRM (customer relationship management) consulting company gave me some valuable insights into his field of expertise. From Big Data to the importance of relevant content, he covered several big CRM topics. But there was one aspect he never mentioned: the relevance of branding. This led me to wonder, What do branding and CRM programs actually have in common? And why would you need one for another? I developed three theses.

  1. Loyalty programs should be deduced from a brand and a brand’s purpose.

My research on different loyalty programs revealed that they all seem to have the same features: coupons, vouchers, free products, and exclusive information or level systems. But since every brand has a unique purpose and promise to its customers, how is it possible that the features in loyalty programs are not at all unique but rather generic? Should a premium brand send out postal coupons and vouchers so that its customers can save 10 percent? If that doesn’t feel right, why does it seem to be OK if the same discount is wrapped in an app of a loyalty program?

The more, the merrier isn’t always the best solution. Of course, it takes courage to commit to content and features that really fit a brand and its purpose. However, this is what makes a loyalty program distinctive and relevant for the potential customer. Only then can companies establish real, long-lasting loyalty and not just one-sided incentive-driven relationships.

  1. A loyalty program is one important part of a 360-degree brand experience.

    From my point of view, most loyalty programs seem rather like separated sales initiatives that as such don’t promote a consistent brand experience. This might be due to a lack of communication between the person in charge for CRM activities and the brand management team. But just like out-of-home advertising or digital media, loyalty programs are important brand touchpoints for consumers. Therefore, loyalty programs should also be considered as a part of a holistic brand-management plan.

  1. The loyalty program experience should match the brand experience.

    Look at the naming of loyalty programs, and it becomes obvious that these programs mostly link to monetary incentives: point card, customer card, or reward program. Many companies try to avoid such straightforwardness by calling their loyalty programs “clubs.” While this may sound better, it still only makes sense if the existence of something called a “club” matches the brand identity.

Even for non-premium brands there are different possibilities for making a program relevant beyond monetary reasons. The higher-level goal of CRM is to create or strengthen a positive relationship between customers and brand. Companies should start to think about what kind of relationship they want to have with their customers. Ikea’s loyalty program, for example, is called IKEA Family, which communicates a totally different feeling of appreciation to customers than if it were simply called the IKEA Customer Card Program.

Of course, some companies are already ahead in terms of aligning their loyalty programs with their branding, while others remain rather backward. Nevertheless, I want to call for all companies to give more relevance to the aspect of branding within their CRM strategy. All CRM activities, no matter if we talk about loyalty programs, newsletters, or customer care, are direct links from a company to its customers. For this reason, loyalty programs possess high potential to fulfill the brand’s purpose and influence the experience of customers with the brand.

Jennifer Przywara is a trainee in brand consulting at MetaDesign Düsseldorf.