The rock icon known as The Boss, who celebrates his 65th birthday today, could teach a master class on audience devotion, creating memorable experiences, and blowing out the amps with 'surprise and delight' - and that's a lesson that translates directly to customer loyalty, according to Colloquy's Jeff Berry.
It's not strictly necessary to serenade people and break out four-minute guitar solos to win their loyalty. Then again, there's no harm in trying. While we're not suggesting that loyalty programmes have to offer free rock concerts to keep customers engaged, there's plenty to be learned from the near-slavish devotion some musicians provoke. The best know how to read their audiences, deliver on expectations, throw in some surprising elements and keep people coming back for more.
When you're talking top of the heap, rock music-wise, it's hard to think of someone who incites more loyalty than the man fans call The Boss. I've been a fan for almost as long as I can remember, and Bruce Springsteen's passion and musical chops are a big influence on me as a musician. (Hey, man cannot live by loyalty research and data analytics alone; but whereas I take my LoyaltyOne duties very seriously, I take a let's-just-have-fun approach when I record and perform with my band, evidenced by its name, Blissfully Ignorant).
It was recently Springsteen's birthday (he was born Sept. 23, 1949) although you'd never guess he's 65 when seeing his athletic four-hour arena shows - and he's still inspiring people. Specifically, he's inspired what we call 'Four Lessons on Loyalty from The Boss':
- Know your audience
Imagine if Springsteen appeared in choreographed dance music videos, traded in his jeans and T-shirts for designer suits or started performing only bluegrass music. Even more loyalty-destroying, imagine if he limited his legendarily long concerts to a single hour? Make no mistake, the Springsteen mythology feels serendipitous, but plenty of data and audience analysis over the years has helped it feel so effortless.
When talking about companies, that's not to say they should never experiment in their loyalty programmes - quite the opposite - but it's smart to figure out what makes people excited and do more of it. Organisations can accomplish this by conducting plenty of research, delving down into those analytics and interacting more with customers - through surveys, point-of-sale questions, in-app research and just plain old encouraging employees at every level to talk with consumers and actually ask, and record, what they want and need.
- Surprise and delight
While it's true that fans, and consumers, crave consistency and reliability, they also want to be swept off their feet sometimes. programmes that don't offer "surprise and delight" features occasionally - unexpected rewards or tickets to an exclusive preview or party - risk being seen as stale and predictable. Springsteen has this figured out: Sure, he's been doing the same job for 40 years, but he looks for ways to still jolt people. Just recently he quietly slid into a New Jersey bar and proceeded to rock out for two hours before a gleeful audience. A couple of years ago he randomly joined a street musician busking on the streets of Boston for a couple tunes.
At concerts, where fans sometimes hold up signs bearing the names of obscure song requests, he'll often choose one and surprise the crowd by playing it. In his charity donations, hidden CD tracks or liner notes, concert sets and overall attitude toward his fans, Springsteen works a sense of delight into the mix in ways that set a great example for loyalty programmes.
- People need a goal - and an experience
Two things fans know when they go to a Springsteen concert: They're going to have an experience, and they won't want to leave early, lest they miss out. It just wouldn't be a Springsteen show without an encore, or three. He's been known to have "medics" carry him onto the stage on a stretcher and urge him to perform yet one more song. Beyond his concerts, he frequently offers the promise of something more just around the corner - a bonus track, a special DVD, an unusually in-depth interview.
In loyalty programmes, too, people need to have a goal. Too many programmes forget to create a ladder of engagement for members to symbolically climb; instead, they either get all the rewards up front and then get bored and drop out, or their next foreseeable rewards are so far down the horizon they lose interest. Thoughtful programmes create a series of goals that are challenging but achievable. As for having a memorable experience, loyalty can once again learn from Springsteen. programmes that fare best tap into an emotional connection over a practical one, knowing that members value an experiential relationship more than one based mostly on their transactions.
- Keep up with the times but don't be a slave to trends
No one would want a Bruce Springsteen who followed every passing trend - Dubstep Boss, anyone? But on the other hand, there are plenty of aging former rock stars out there who just can't look past their Woodstock shirts to notice what's been happening, musically and culturally, this century. Springsteen always remains himself, but he stays fresh with appearances at interesting events and locations, jamming with people of all ages - talk show host Jimmy Fallon, for example, and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello - and generally avoiding dinosaur behaviour.
For loyalty programmes, there's always a risk of jumping at every shiny new object. But there's an even greater risk of being left behind, holding your humble paper card and hole-puncher and wondering where everyone went. The trick is to do the research and truly understand members. Beacon technology, geofencing, ever-changing mobile payment advancements - any or all could be a fit, or not. programmes need not adopt them simply because they exist, but instead because they make sense for their customers and will help the company hit its goals.
"Perhaps no-one will be asking loyalty marketers to take the stage at Madison Square Garden, but by following these Bruce Springsteen-inspired tips, they could have programme members flicking their lighters (or the Zippo app on their smartphones) and shouting 'encore!'," concluded Berry.