Brand Loyalty Programs: Are They Shams?

Shugan, Steven M.
March 2005
Marketing Science;Spring2005, Vol. 24 Issue 2, p185
Academic Journal
Brand loyalty and the more modern topics of computing customer lifetime value and structuring loyalty programs remain the focal point for a remarkable number of research articles. At first, this research appears consistent with firm practices. However, close scrutiny reveals disaffirming evidence. Many current so-called loyalty programs appear unrelated to the cultivation of customer brand loyalty and the creation of customer assets. True investments are up-front expenditures that produce much greater future returns. In contrast, many so-called loyalty programs are shams because they produce liabilities (e.g., promises of future rewards or deferred rebates) rather than assets. These programs produce short-term revenue from customers while producing substantial future obligations to those customers. Rather than showing trust by committing to the customer, the firm asks the customer to trust the firm--that is, trust that future rewards are indeed forthcoming. The entire idea is antithetical to the concept of a customer asset. Many modern loyalty programs resemble old-fashioned trading stamps or deferred rebates that promise future benefits for current patronage. A true loyalty program invests in the customer (e.g., provides free up-front training, allows familiarization or customization) with the expectation of greater future revenue. Alternative motives for extant programs are discussed.


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