In a disruptive environment, brands face a slew of challenges. They have to deal with data proliferation, privacy regulations, profile unification, and changing customer expectations. For this reason, they need to make sure that the technology providers they partner with are working at the top of their game. Cue ICF Next.
ICF Next is more than a marketing agency. The recent launch of ICF Next is the culmination of years of integrating a set of best-in-class marketing and communications capabilities through different agencies and consultancies. The company is focused on insights, creativity, and technology that move people, from consumers to colleagues and citizens to communities, to bring organizations closer to the people they serve. ICF Next’s 1,700-plus deep bench of creatives, communicators, strategists, technologists, and data analysts is committed to helping organizations meet barriers head-on, find real value sooner, and create lasting change that leaves them better prepared for the future.
One of ICF Next’s core areas of expertise is loyalty and customer marketing. Formerly known as Olson 1to1, ICF Next offers award-winning loyalty and CRM strategy; customer journey mapping and lifecycle management; personalized creative, analytics, reporting, and modeling; cross-channel marketing; and technology and program implementation and management.
Recently, Loyalty360 spoke with Andrew Kelly, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at ICF Next, to discuss differentiation, personalization, and trust.
What is the biggest challenge that your clients face in driving deeper customer loyalty?
One of the biggest challenges organizations are facing today is the fact that customers are swimming in loyalty programs. This means it’s becoming more and more difficult to stand out, as virtually every brand is luring its frequent and best customers with similar experiences, heavily anchored on a transactional, points-based reward, discount or similar incentive. Programs like these still continue to attract and retain customers, and remain tremendously valuable to both brands and members alike; however, our research indicates that 80 percent of consumers want brands to go above and beyond the narrow focus on just points.
If you could recommend one thing to a client to help them with this challenge, what would it be?
The most successful brands are treating loyalty as an outcome and long-term business strategy in building advocacy, not just a way to keep customers on the hook. So, for brands, being able to establish genuine emotional loyalty with their customers is paramount. Consumers are often missing something important from your brand—like the feeling of being appreciated, for example. In our latest research, we measured how brands are connecting with their customers, which led to actionable insights, focusing on what we describe as the six key drivers of loyalty, namely, Appreciation, Empathy, Investment, Reliability, Shared Values, and Trust. These drivers play a vital role in fostering genuine, long-term, interpersonal loyalty and create a lasting, emotional bond with customers.
How important is personalization?
Personalization is a frequently employed marketing idiom to that evokes a richer customer experience, but is a rather broad term that can encompass so many parts of the customer journey. At its core, personalization is a very important tactic that is, more and more these days, an entitlement in the mind of the customer—the expectations of returning patrons and purchasers are greater than ever. The challenge is deploying personalization at scale. But through more advanced predictive modeling and real-time lifecycle optimization through machine learning and AI, marketers are able to deliver on this more than ever before, which comes with its own set of challenges.
What do authenticity and trust mean to you?
Trust and authenticity are paramount to building long-term relationships with customers. Being transparent throughout the customer experience can pay off big in the long term. For example, helping your customers make the right decision and not overselling them; or, if something goes wrong, own it and apologize. A facet of emotional loyalty is based on trust earned from the perceived value of products and services that deliver on fairness and honesty and meet the customers’ needs.
Our discussion with Andrew Kelly of ICF Next can offer marketers a few key insights. First, because customers are “swimming” in loyalty programs, brands need to differentiate themselves and their offerings. This means having a decent transaction-based program but also going above and beyond by offering personalized experiences. Brands also need to think of loyalty programs as a long-term business strategy that generates advocacy. Lastly, they need to personalize at scale and build authenticity and trust to build true and lasting emotional connections.

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