Fresh Ideas /

All is fair in love and loyalty

#AnimalHealth, #BuyerInsight, #Retention

Part 3 of 5 in our Animal Health Challenger series.

Customer loyalty is a magical thing. It generates higher sales volumes of more products more easily. It helps us convince customers to buy new products sooner, and, if we make a rare misstep, it grants us a bit of slack from our customers while we get things right. When customers love us and express that love as loyalty, it’s good for business.

The challenge, as I mentioned in my previous post From selling molecules to creating experiences is that we tend to place a lot of emphasis on the newest molecule. It’s hard for customers to fall in love with a molecule. Sure, they may like our chemistry for a while, but there’s always something new in our competitors’ pipeline that jeopardizes ongoing purchases of our products.

So, we look for ways to reinforce continued sales. We offer rebates. We create discounted product bundles. Or we establish rewards programs. These are fine as far as they go. But they don’t generate the outcome we want: genuine loyalty. (In fact to the contrary, rather than good will, I’ve seen these sorts of programs generate resentment, when customer’s start to ask, “Why don’t you just offer me products at a lower price?”)

The fact is that such programs create structural or functional forms of loyalty, not emotional loyalty. They lock our customers in, but they don’t foster an emotional attachment. They hold customers captive, but they don’t captivate (unless you consider Stockholm Syndrome to be captivating).

What rebates, product bundles and rewards programs enable is retention… not loyalty.

And this is where we need to draw a distinction. What rebates, product bundles and rewards programs enable is retention. They don’t stimulate any of the benefits I’ve mentioned in the first paragraph. It’s a matter of retention, not loyalty.

Whenever someone mentions emotional loyalty, the name Apple is likely to come up (probably within the first 10 seconds). But what few people recognize is that Apple is also a master of retention tactics. Sure, you can buy other manufacturers’ products to complement your iDevices, but they just won’t work together as well as if you went with an all-Apple setup. You’ll lose a feature here or there, or getting things to work together may take an extra hour or two. These are all classic retention techniques aimed at gaining more share of the customer’s wallet.

What’s unique here, though, is that these tactics rarely create resentment. To the contrary, they add to the emotional loyalty that surrounds the brand. Each of these retention practices invites you further into the Apple ecosystem.

Say what you may about Apple products, it’s this ecosystem that delivers a holistic experience that clearly inspires loyalty. It has created a unique retail environment that encourages customers to get hands-on with products and it offers near-heroic in-store customer service. It’s this experience that builds loyalty.

No doubt, Apple is unique. It offers a broad, tacit promise—“technology that just works”—and it has inspired loyalty among hundreds of millions of people.

For us in the animal health world, our job is more complex. The experiences we create must meet more nuanced criteria, as we try to address the needs of all those involved in the buyer’s journey. But we can’t diminish the importance of each of these journeys. Because at the end of the day, they help us build the emotional loyalty we seek as marketers. In loyalty, as in love, the key to a great relationship is a deep understanding of the motivations of your partner.

It’s never been a more exciting—or more difficult—time to be an animal health marketer. If you’re interested in continuing the conversation, please contact me at or via LinkedIn.