News & Views

Opinion / Loyalty is Dead

by Contagious Contributor

Tim Wade, who once managed one of the largest global loyalty schemes as director of marketing at Best Western Hotels, argues that loyalty is dead, and marketers should switch their focus to kinship 

Loyalty is currently buried in so much functionality, I would argue it's time to talk about a complete redefinition. By contrast, the driving force of kinship is the desire to build deeper relationships, where we can feel part of something rather than a loyalty scheme. It's key to engaging with others who'll be proud to wear the badge, where everyone feels a sense of belonging, compared to existing customer loyalty schemes that do very little to capture authentic customer loyalty. It's a connection that keeps everyone in the know to such an extent that those outside of the adventure are slightly pitied by those on the inside.

The formula behind kinship is simple, but it's not easy. Kinship is created not through a loyalty scheme but through two things:

1) The entire brand
2) The customer experiences it delivers 

What I've learned is that brands who achieve this come to a conclusion early on that it's not about high tech but high touch.
It might sound idealistic, but let me give you two examples of brands that are reaching those levels of kinship today:



MAC Cosmetics where young women can be seen queuing on street corners regularly to get their hands on the latest limited edition product. Online shoppers wait anxiously in front of their device to make sure their order has gone through. MAC is unlike any other make up brand in the world. The level of devotion that some of their customers have is cult-like. And this isn’t because of a loyalty scheme, it's because these young women genuinely feel part of the MAC culture; a creative, stylish, fashion-led world with a tangible sense of darkness.

Instead of data and analytics, you'll find artists and artistry that are central to the MAC culture. They execute looks that their devotees tirelessly try to emulate. MAC is almost like a celebrity with its fans following avidly online, in-store and back stage.

Crossfit – You may not be aware of the American driven fitness phenomena that is Crossfit. From what began as a simple way to train, Crossfit has now become one of the fastest growing sports in the world with a success built on creating customer experiences that quickly lead to kinship.

• Crossfit Community – Unlike your standard gym, this is a community-based activity where people encourage each other and share each other’s pain. (There's quite a lot of pain). The community creates a sense of belonging and a 'We're in it together' spirit. When was the last time someone started cheering and clapping your efforts at your local gym? Would be odd if they did? But this community doesn’t just live in the gym, each local venue has its own social media pages where the community grows even stronger.

• Crossfit Communication – Like any kinship, this is a unique way of communicating with its own language. Acronyms like WOD and AMRAP become everyday phrases for the Crossfit communities.



• Crossfit Content – You only have to search online for Crossfit and you'll quickly stumble upon an amount of content that is quite simply phenomenal. Apps, content, clothing that the mass proliferation of loyalty schemes has done very little to capture authentic customer loyalty – Crossfit has a digital planet with all the trimmings.

• Crossfit Kinship – With this level of engagement, it wasn't long until other brands stood up and took notice. Reebok went on to create bespoke clothing for Crossfit proving that the badge is worn with pride.

The power behind kinship is significant. It far outweighs any short term benefits of a more functional approach or scheme. The harsh reality is that it requires a different set of metrics. Brands will need to vary their approach to building branded customer experiences with a long term focus which is beyond the tenure of most CEOs and CMOs. You have to be in it for the long haul.