This originally appeared as a LinkedIn post in March 2014. Having had more discussions with more clients and potential clients, I find the thoughts still hold true.

As a marketer, I read a lot about branding and advertising trends. As a brand marketer, I also read a great deal about customer service and customer experience because I truly believe that is at the heart of any brand I am charged with. As a casino marketer, I read even more about loyalty programs that are used across different industries because they often give me a great insight into what I could be doing.

Forbes contributor Lois Geller once wrote about why Apple doesn’t have a loyalty program. Before I read the first word, I already had my answer. Apple DOES indeed have a loyalty program. It’s a clear and solid brand that is operationalized and translated throughout the organization (Jules Rules #3: Operationalize Your Brand). It’s called a good product that is consistent with a brand promise that is delivered time and time again. I am not an Apple worshiper. I know Apple worshipers, and I know I’m not one of them. I do, however, appreciate my Apple products, and I find them consistent with what I’ve been promised. Therefore, I can assume that I’ll upgrade or buy a new product sometime soon. Isn’t that, after all, the whole goal behind a loyalty program…to drive repeated visits and purchases?

About the same time, I read another article. This time it was about loyal Krispy Kreme customers. In it then-CMO Dwayne Chambers said, “The chain has a loyal fan base often willing to drive more than 30 minutes to one of its 240 U.S. shops for a kind of reward, a simple indulgence.”

The chain has a loyal fan base often willing to drive more than 30 minutes to one of its 240 U.S. shops for a kind of reward, a simple indulgence.

Try as I might, I can’t find a Krispy Kreme loyalty program unless it’s warm melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

Ms. Geller uses a great definition of a loyalty program in her Forbes article.

Loyalty programs are structured marketing efforts that reward, and therefore encourage, loyal buying behavior that is potentially beneficial to the firm.

Having read these articles, I thought about casino players card programs. Some call them “loyalty programs”. I tend to call them “players card programs” because while they are indeed structured marketing efforts that are rewarding and encouraging buying behavior, I believe (based on thousands of hours of research) that they are not actually driving loyalty to the business but to the offers and rewards. It’s a bit like competing on price, which we all know is a short-term strategy.

How can we get break the bond to the offer and build one for the business? Think Apple. Think Krispy Kreme. Solidify and operationalize your brand so that you don’t have to keep buying or discounting business. Use the card to get to know your customers better and better with each visit or purchase. Think brand. Think long-term.

Elizabeth Kraus gives us some great guidance in one of her posts.

The keys to discovering customer loyalty strategies that will build true brand loyalty may lie in the answers to these questions:

  • How do we exceed customer expectations?
  • How can we give customers a bigger voice – and a bigger stake – in our business?
  • How do we make the lives of our customers better?
  • How can we make it so that customers feel better about themselves as a result of doing business with us?
  • What can we do so that customers would feel proud to recommend us to others or feel proud of being publicly affiliated with our organization?

Once you can stop thinking offers and start thinking loyalty, you’ll find the answers to your brand questions.

What do you think about your loyalty programs and their impact on your business. Let’s start a discussion.