Insight: Loyalty lessons from the Walking Dead

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By: RickFerguson |

Posted on April 11, 2016

Contributing editor Jeff Haden at Inc. has an interesting take on the lessons for marketers in the recent controversy concerning the season 6 finale of the hit AMC televison programme The Walking Dead. Whether or not you're up to speed on the latest travails of Rick Grimes and company as they navigate the zombie apocalypse, there are lessons to be learned from the show's mis-steps: Namely, the surest way to turn off loyal customers is to betray their trust.

For the uninitiated: viewers of season six of The Walking Dead had been anticipating the arrival of the show's new arch-nemesis, a baseball bat-wielding villain named Negan. All season long, the show had been teasing the finale, in which Negan would dispatch one of the show's beloved main characters with said bat. The actors themselves had given interviews about the emotional difficulties they endured in filming the scene. But at the last minute, the show pulled its punch - instead of showing us which character Negan killed, the scene turned to a first-person view of the doomed character on the receiving end of his bat. Instead of discussing the aftermath of the murder, Dead fans must now wait six months to learn which character got the axe - or in this case, the bat.

To say that the 12 million fans watching the finale reacted unfavorably is a gross understatement. Twitter nearly melted down from the apoplexy, and television critics around the country condemned the show for the cheat. The consensus opinion: The Walking Dead betrayed the trust of its fans for a cheap ratings ploy.

What does any of this have to do with customer loyalty, you ask? Marketers would do well, Haden argues, to learn from the show's mistake. Money quote:

"No matter how loyal fans are, that loyalty is never guaranteed. True loyalty is always earned. True loyalty is undying allegiance to a brand or product (or show) based on an incredible level of satisfaction. When you are highly satisfied, when your needs and expectations are met and even exceeded, you simply cannot imagine using another product or service... Regardless, plenty of fans will tune in [to the season Seven premiere], if only to see who died. But they may then start to tune out - because customer loyalty is earned one day, one product, one service, or one episode at a time."

Haden is on the money. Loyal customers enter into a relationship with you, with all the expectations inherent in any important relationship: that you appreciate their loyalty, that you demonstrate loyalty in return, and most importantly, that you never betray their trust. No customer ever wants to feel betrayed - and when they do, they'll exit the relationship swiftly. The Walking Dead will probably survive this betrayal, but the show has much work to do to earn back the trust of its most loyal fans.

Read the rest of Haden's article here.

-Rick Ferguson

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