Today’s post was written by Charles Purvis, Vice President of Engagement Strategies at Brandmovers, Inc and was first posted on LinkedIn. This week both Charles and Brandmovers’ Vice President of Client Services Jeremy Spencer are at the IC Marketing Summit in Dallas, TX, where Charles is a featured speaker.

“Aim for the sky, but move slowly, enjoying every step along the way. It is all those little steps that make the journey complete.”

–Chanda Kochhar


When it comes to Loyalty, there’s so much good science out there. More than ever before, we have a solid understanding of how the human mind works, and what we, as humans, find persuasive and motivating and enriching.

Leveraging this understanding to design a highly effective loyalty program, commercial or consumer, is not just smart . . . it can also be fairly straightforward once you have the right tools at hand and a useful framework to guide you. In my work, I’ve been focusing on just these issues, and thinking about how to best articulate what I believe and have seen work for clients. Here’s what I’ve landed on:

  • Loyalty takes time
  • Lasting Loyalty can last a lifetime
  • Getting to Lasting Loyalty requires focusing on Behaviors and Attitudes first
  • Behaviors change Attitudes
  • Attitudes change Belief
  • The “glue” that holds it all together is Attention

The Glue

Science tells us something very interesting—when we engage in behaviors long enough our attitudes adjust to those behaviors. What in the world does that mean? Here’s a great example:

Feeling down? Stick a pencil in your mouth. But be careful where you place it. Hold it between your lips and you’ll be flexing frown muscles – and your resulting mood will only darken. If, on the other hand, you bite down on it with your teeth, you’ll be giving your smile muscles a gentle work out – and will be feeling better in practically no time.

Psychologists experimenting with what has come to be known as embodied cognition have long known that facial gestures, in addition to reflecting, can actually influence and alter emotional states. (1)

In other words, if you fake a smile long enough, you will actually become happier.  Similarly, since we all prefer consistency between our behaviors and attitudes and beliefs, when we hold attitudes long enough they will actually evolve into a belief. (2)

What does this have to do with loyalty? Simply this—when we offer our customers the opportunity to change their behaviors, their attitudes will follow, and so will their beliefs. But we only get these changes when we hold their attention long enough for these changes to take effect.

So, loyalty takes time, and the glue that holds it together is Attention.

Shifting Behaviors By Gaining Attention

One step leads to the other, and the journey to Lasting Loyalty begins with what I’ve begun referring to as Behavioral Loyalty, which is largely transactional in nature. My definition for this is pretty straightforward—behavioral loyalty occurs when we change the behavior of our customers, either to buy more, to buy more frequently or across categories, or even to buy from us for the first time.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. This is what most loyalty programs you’re a member of “feel” like—you are offered an incentive (such as a discount, BOGO, sweepstakes entry, points/miles, etc.) in return for engaging in a desired behavior. The “Do This Get That” type of exchange between a brand and you (as the customer) provides the starting point for future interactions, and “grabs” your attention. There’s a lot to love about this sort of straightforward approach:

  • It’s a familiar experience in the marketplace
  • It’s almost certain to generate a measurable lift in activity
  • ROI is easy to calculate (you compare the lift to the what you spent)
  • It’s fairly easy to get “right,” so long as you’re only trying to change behaviors

But there’s also a lot to know and learn about behavioral loyalty, and this is where science and the right framework are critical. Here’s the thing–behavioral and design science tell us what matters most when it comes to shifting behavior. In my experience, companies who know how to earn Lasting Loyalty from their clients get two basic ideas right in this stage of the game.

First, they leverage the right approach and the right principles of human persuasion and design; look for an upcoming post on this from me, with much more detail. In the meantime, I’ll share some keywords with you if you’re in a mood to research some of this immediately (just search for the keyword and add “human persuasion” or “design principle” to the search):

  • Simplicity
  • Credibility
  • Status
  • Identity
  • Commitment
  • Feedback
  • Ritual

Second, successful brands understand that changing behavior is just the beginning, and that the most important aspect of a behavioral loyalty approach is this: now that we have the attention of our customers, what are we going to do with it?

The answer is, we’re going to work on Attitudes.

By Holding Attention, We Change Attitudes

When we change behaviors, we get lift; when we change attitudes, we get real growth.

Why is that? Because the lift “sticks,” i.e., the behavioral change doesn’t fade away when the incentive is either removed or matched by our competition.

Attitudes begin to change as our customers spend more time with our brand. They grow to not only understand our value proposition, but to believe it. Customers begin to feel positive about purchasing from us, not just for our quality products and services, but because they’re connecting with our brand on a more emotional level. Customers also become resistant to competitive offers. This is Attitudinal Loyalty.

The way to facilitate this shift is to wrap an experience around the exchange/offer we put into the marketplace in the first place. We do this by focusing on what drives human behavior, and by leveraging well-understood principles to hold and engage the attention of our customers. As put forth in the work of Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria, humans are moved by Four Basic Drives:

  1.  The Drive to Achieve
  2. The Drive to Bond
  3. The Drive to be Challenged
  4. The Drive to Defend

These drives make intuitive sense to most of us the first time we see them—we like stuff & status; we like to fit in and be social; we like to create and figure things out; we need to be treated fairly.

Here’s an interesting side-note on Fairness: being treated unfairly engages/stimulates the same part of our brain that is stimulated by pain. This is one of the reasons you see such a mighty uproar every now and then when a beloved brand changes the rules of its Loyalty program—it literally “hurts.” (I’m looking at you, Starbucks 2016.)

With these Four Drives in mind, we turn to a cluster of Human Persuasion and Design Principles that are proven to be effective at holding attention, driving engagement, and extending the connection our customers feel to our program and our brand:

  • The power of Stories
  •  The power of Memories
  • Autonomy
  • Exclusivity, and its cousin, Scarcity
  •  Social Rewards
  •   Social Proof

Once again, searching for these keywords will yield a great deal of useful information, and you’ll see further detail from me in an upcoming post, that goes into much detail about how to use these building blocks in a proven design process.

Think, for a moment, of the most effective and engaging loyalty programs you are currently in, and I guarantee you they’ve made use of the principles of Attitudinal Loyalty. They probably exhibit such elements as:

  • Mini experiences within the program that allow multiple opportunities to form memories of membership . . . redeeming for a reward; participating in a contest; sharing a product review; attending a sponsored event, etc.
  • The use of stories to highlight the benefits of membership and share the memories generated.
  • The autonomy to opt in or out of various elements of the program. This allows us the ability to create and tailor our own unique experience(s) of the program.
  • Exclusive perks for higher levels of membership, perhaps even some that are unpublished, and therefore challenging to find.
  • Limited-time or limited-edition offers/perks/rewards.
  • Clear markers of status, and the ability to earn stuff.
  • community experience, via online or common retail experience. This community experience will offer social proof of member activity (via newsfeed or social sharing), and social status itself may be a reward for belonging.

At Last...Lasting Loyalty

When we get all of the above aspects of our program right and have allowed a significant portion of our customers to experience the benefits of spending time with our brand, then we arrive at Lasting Loyalty.

Lasting Loyalty is where customers become true believers in our brand. They’ve shifted their behavior in our direction; they’ve spent long enough with us that their attitudes have shifted in our direction; now they believe in our brand and associate themselves with us. They interact with our brand frequently through both transactional and social opportunities. They act as advocates within their communities because they see our brand as part of their identity.

At the extreme, think Apple. Think Harley-Davidson. Think Ben & Jerry’s. Very few brands reach this level of what my friend Barry Kirk would call “Cult Loyalty,” at least on a broad scale, but every brand has the potential to achieve this with some portion of its customers.

For sure, Lasting Loyalty is the desired end-state, but we know going in that we’ll never get 100% of our customers into this rarefied state. The goal is to move as many of them as possible, and to allow these customers opportunities to advocate for us, in all the media that are available to them.

When we do this, we create a loyalty program that is worthy of our brand, and of our customers.

Designing For Lasting Loyalty

How do we design for Lasting Loyalty? The short answer is, that’s actually what we’ve been discussing this whole time. The only-slightly longer answer is that Lasting Loyalty is a choice that must be made by our customers, and it is our role to put together an experience that provides them the opportunity to connect with our brand in a deep and meaningful way.

It is my belief that a sound approach, using the proven principles of human persuasion and design, is the shortest and most effective path to creating this experience for your customers.

1.“Does Mood Shift Depend on Cognition…or Behavior? Thinking versus doing: A study indicates effects on mood control.” Seth Slater M.F.A., Psychology Today


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