The Space Between Viewers and Viewer Loyalty

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By: Mike Giambattista, CLMP |

Posted on January 4, 2019

Broadcast is almost by definition a one-way transaction.  Networks send, viewers receive.  Except for a handful of (admittedly noble) experiments broadcasters don’t seem to have found a way to change the dynamic of that transaction from a rich one-way to a rich two-way dialogue.  We’ll get into why that matters in a moment.

There is an old adage among loyalty marketers that says that loyalty marketing programs are about best customers, not customer databases.  Translated to the world of media, it’s about the best viewers, not the most viewers – and that’s a BIG shift for most media companies whose base metrics are still tied to old-media measurements such as viewer loyalty and reach.

My strong suspicion is that they haven’t worked.

Once we adjust our focus to emphasize engagement factors we begin to form a picture of our viewers that provides a lot of opportunity to speak with, listen to, incentivize and bond with them.

There have been a lot of programs in the marketplace that have been designed to create a bond between viewer & show and between viewer & network.  It’s not worth naming names but almost all of the major networks have either implemented a version of viewer loyalty in the past or are doing so right now.  My strong suspicion is that they haven’t worked.

Basic behavioral psychology pretty much dictates that the kinds of programs we’ve seen either aren’t going to move the needle significantly or will fail outright.  Here’s why, and here is where we will explore the fix.

Full disclosure:  I’ve joined a number of these programs both because I am a fan of the show and because of professional curiosity.  And I’ve had some very impressive carrots dangled in front of me as rewards / incentives for doing so.  But that’s exactly where the problem typically lies. 

Did you catch that?  I was rewarded for joining – swag, autographed photos, caps, and the ubiquitous tote bags.  What I wasn’t presented with – or at least not obviously so – was a clearly mapped plan of MY responsibilities.  The carrots were certainly dangled but there was never a clear pathway to getting them.  I was motivated to join the program but never more deeply encouraged to change any further behavior, ie. watch longer, watch deeper, create referrals, participate in activities, and the list goes on. 

Affinity programs vs loyalty programs

If loyalty programs exist to change customer behavior, such as viewer loyalty, then these programs failed.  At best they created an affinity toward the show – a good feel.  Affinity programs have their place in the marketers’ arsenal but in today’s hyper-competitive media environment we need to be focused on something more than good feels.

Let’s go back to the basics of loyalty psychology.  Social learning theorist, Julian Rotter developed a formula which can be used to predict behavior and which has become foundational to loyalty program design ever since.   The formula states that Behavioral Potential is a function of Expectancy Reinforcement Value.

BP = f(E+RV)

At its most basic, the formula dictates that outcomes are affected by presenting customers (viewers) with goals they can reasonably expect to achieve and are reinforced for doing so.  The takeaway – viewers must be presented with clearly defined, achievable goals – and reinforced (rewarded) when they do.  Executed well, that process can result in changed behaviors & increased viewer loyalty - at scale.

Technology has given loyalty marketers a toolset that was unimaginable even 5 years ago.  We can now talk to, engage with, listen to and incentivize in ways we never could before.  And many of those same tools are available to broadcasters or can be adaptable into broadcast media.  The real hurdles though, are cultural.

Broadcast doesn’t have to be a one-way transaction anymore.  Smart marketers and smart tools have opened up new channels for engagement.  Loyalty marketers can now “dialogue” with viewers to give them reasons to watch and paths to follow for rewardable behavior. 

Loyalty marketing is as much art as it is science.  And there is enough science underpinning the mechanics of loyalty that we can confidently create programs that consistently change behaviors.  The question is, what behaviors do broadcasters most wish to change?

Mike Giambattista is Editor in Chief at The Wise Marketer and is a Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional (CLMP).