Where’s the Love? Why Loyal Customers Deserve Your Brand’s Loyalty

Lynsey Barbour

juin 21, 2018


I recently received the email that millions of Canadian moms dread every spring: the one telling me it’s time to register my kids for summer camp.

I’ve sent my children to the same camp for five years, and we’ve likely contributed to the new dock, the resurfaced tennis courts and the fancy new dining hall with all those dues. My kids adore this camp and look forward to attending it each year. And, secretly, my husband and I love the chance to go out for a few dinners while the kids are away.

Yet despite my loyalty to the camp, I’m just not feeling the same love in return, which is especially problematic because I’m a loyalty marketer. Why do I feel this way? The effort the camp puts into our relationship has significantly diminished since we first sent our kids up north to Muskoka.

Year one,  their correspondence was full of photos of my kids with huge smiles, trekking in the beautiful Canadian woods, jumping into crystal-clear lakes, lounging in the hot sun and roasting marshmallows: exactly the memories every Canadian kid should have, and what every Canadian parent wants for them. It was masterful marketing.

Now, at year five, the correspondence has dwindled to little more than an email that reads, “It’s camp time again. Please confirm your credit card number hasn’t changed.” 

This is what I’d call miserly marketing. It’s easy to reference the dating-versus-marriage metaphor here, but there is more than an ounce of truth in that cliché. At the start of a relationship, we are on our best behavior, using our best manners, wearing our best clothes. Over time, that effort and energy fades.

We presume. We assume. We take for granted. 

I’ve never understood why people treat those most important to them poorly — or why organizations do the same to their most loyal customers.

We devote enormous effort and energy to attracting new customers. We dangle pretty offers and shiny preferential terms and contracts in front of them, often without knowing if they’re going to treat us with respect — or if they even want a long-term relationship.

That seems like a disproportionate use of budget for an unconfirmed return. Conversely, existing customers often get what little energy and effort we have left. When our energy and budget is depleted, we wearily turn to them, hoping to remind them why they got into a relationship with us in the first place. 

Show the love to your loyal customers.

So, what does it look like when brands prioritize their most loyal customers and extend the loyalty in their direction?

At AIR MILES, we go to some extraordinary lengths to show our appreciation, including helping a collector use his miles to redeem a brand-new Mercedes! But, for those who prefer movies to Mercedes, this past spring AIR MILES ran a Perk Promotion, giving all AIR MILES collectors free admission to watch Family Favourites movies shown at Cineplex at 11 a.m. on Saturdays. All collectors had to do was get the free promo codes from airmiles.ca and redeem the codes for a free movie admission at Cineplex.com before May 19. It was a pretty awesome way to show the love.

At AIR MILES, we use three tiers to recognize and reward collectors based on how they participate with our program. The more they interact with us, the more we give back to them. Simple.

Collectors start in our Blue segment, which includes those who collect less than 1,000 miles in a calendar year. Our Gold segment includes customers who collect 1,000 to 5,999 miles in a year. And our top-tier Onyx segment is for customers who collect more than 6,000 miles in a year. We do everything possible to ensure our Onyx collectors feel valued.

Another great example of a company that prioritizes loyal customers: Starbucks. Everyone’s favorite purveyor of delicious coffee and tasty pastries has also been a leader in bringing loyalty into their overall experience. As if I needed a reason to go back three times a day for a grande, extra-hot latte!

Starbucks uses a basic tiered structure to delineate between those who are very loyal and those who are less loyal. After customers register for a Starbucks card or download the rewards app, they’re able to start collecting “Stars” when they pay for Starbucks products using their Starbucks card or the app.  

Customers are automatically added to the Starbucks Green level when they sign up.  When customers collect 300 or more Stars over a 12-month period, they move to the Gold level. There are many benefits doled out at each level, with more value given to Gold-level customers. Because of this, many customers (me included) strive to reach Gold.  

Achieving Gold status is viewed by many as prestigious. Holding a coveted Gold card makes the most loyal Starbucks customers feel unique and special. That feeling, in addition to all the other personalization that is part of their experience, is key.

e.l.f. cosmetics is another company that does tiered loyalty right. The line of affordable, quality makeup products has a three-tier loyalty program, based on the number of points a customer has earned over a 12-month period. Customers earn points for every dollar they spend. Members of the entry tier are known as the Glow Getters; they have earned 100 points. The next tier is the Rising Stars, who have earned 101 to 400 points, and the top tier is the A-Listers, who have earned more than 400 points. 

All customers receive value from this program. However, as with the other examples, the value increases the more loyal customers are to e.l.f. Glow Getters get an enrollment and birthday gift, while only A-Listers access more valuable rewards like early access to new products and the chance to choose their own sale day. In the cosmetics category, that kind of exclusive, front-of-the-line access carries significant cachet — and therefore appeal — to members.

Loyalty demands loyalty.

New-customer acquisition should and always will be a critical part of any organization’s growth. However, putting all or most of our effort into customers who haven’t shown that they also desire a committed relationship with us seems naïve and disingenuous to those who have shown this.

Loyalty demands loyalty. That’s not a platitude; it’s just common sense. Isn’t it time all of us marketers employed just a little more of that?

I certainly know a bunch of moms who would appreciate it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go to Starbucks — and earn a few more Stars.

Global Solutions



About the author

Lynsey Barbour

Lynsey Barbour

Associate Director, Global Solutions

Lynsey is a global loyalty practitioner, with a career spanning 20+ years working with tier one brands across three continents – Africa, Europe and North America. She was the Marketing Lead at the largest fashion retailer in Southern Africa, ran the BP & Whitbread business at the UK’s premier Coalition Loyalty Program, and is now the Marketing and Client Lead at LoyaltyOne’s growing Global Solutions team where she focuses on partnerships in Latin America and Asia. During her tenure at LoyaltyOne, Lynsey has held a number of roles across the organization leading initiatives as diverse as the AIR MILES Collector magazine, launching the American Express AIR MILES Reserve credit card and running the quarterly AIR MILES Collector Update which reached over 17MM Collectors each year.

Lynsey has worked on an impressive array of world renowned loyalty programs like the AIR MILES Reward Program, Dotz Program, Nectar Program and Priority Pass and her clients have included brands such as American Express, Bank of Montreal, Johnson Insurance, Royal Sun Alliance, Manulife, British Petroleum (BP) and Whitbread hospitality group of companies. Lynsey’s key strength is her ability to utilize data-driven insights and her diverse practitioner experience to impact client’s business.

Originally from Zimbabwe, Lynsey graduated from the University of Surrey with a MBA. She is married with two daughters and despite her best efforts, no member of her family wants to define her family brand or have a segmented vacation experience based on individual preferences… yet!