The 2021 Loyalty Expo proved once again to be the pinnacle of loyalty conferences, containing a wide variety of topics discussed and networking across different industries and sectors not found anywhere else.
One of the most enthusiastic attendees was Tom Madden, Senior Partner for ICF Next. He not only attended but held a seminar on emotional loyalty in a well-received session titled “Emotional Loyalty and its Role in Your Brand’s Program Evolution.” 

Madden spoke with Loyalty360 CEO Mark Johnson about his overall feelings about the conference, how to build customer emotional loyalty, and trends that brands should focus on in the upcoming year. 

A Welcome Return to In-Person Events

If one thing was special for Madden, it was the opportunity to connect with people in person once again.

“So many of us are used to being out in person with our clients and our colleagues across the industry,” says Madden. “It was really refreshing and invigorating to be back amongst the colleagues of so many brands and partners.”

Speaking on trends discussed that presented possible opportunities for brands, Madden believes there are a couple of avenues to explore. First, they can focus on humanizing emotional loyalty and reach consumers deeper than the usual transactional level. The other area to take advantage of is employee engagement since employees are on the “front line,” meaning they can make or break loyalty program strategies. 

Finally, Madden discusses his presentation held during an ICF Next-sponsored breakfast. Despite it being an early session, he was pleased with how many active and engaged people were in attendance. He talked through ICF Next’s ideology of moving customers along the continuum of what’s possible.

“We call it the ‘Active Participation Curve,’” explains Madden. “That curve starts with general awareness [of the brand], and through measurable strategies, we help our clients move their customers up that curve through engagement, loyalty, advocacy, and ultimately to where the customer/member personally identifies with the brand.”

Making Emotional Loyalty Work

For Madden and ICF Next, emotional loyalty only works if the brand wants that from the customer.
“I think it, first and foremost, starts with it being an objective,” he remarks. “If it’s not an objective of the brand, it’s all a moot point.”

When the brand is passionate about driving emotional loyalty, the next step is to put a solid plan together. According to the ICF Next Senior Partner, it does not have to be a grandiose, massive plan. Instead, it is as simple as identifying member segments and figuring out their position on the previously mentioned curve. From there, brands can strategize and figure out KPI’s to measure, painting a clearer picture of success. Above all else, Madden emphasizes that the most crucial step is to begin the effort, no matter your confidence in your capabilities. 

After his insightful presentation at the expo, many attendees were inquisitive and wanted advice for their respective brands. Madden says the number one concern regarded measuring success, or lack thereof when putting strategies in place to move members along the curve. 

With the evident passion present in the room, Madden and ICF Next are confident that attendees will drastically improve their customer emotional loyalty. 

Trends to Focus on in 2022

Madden says that most discussions touched on members and customers’ needs being different now, whether consciously or subconsciously. People and their needs have changed since February 2020, and as a result, everybody has reevaluated their goals, strategies, and tactics. 

When asked how brands can understand their customer’s changing needs, Madden says they need to listen to members fully and address their concerns accordingly. 

“Some brands are really good at this,” he explains. “They’ve been talking to their members and addressing some of the basic needs at the time. Continue those conversations because while there is a new normal, it isn’t February 2020 normal – it’s a different kind.”

Although we might not find the old normal we were used to, people like Tom Madden and the ICF Next team are readily preparing brands to take care of customers and encourage a more profound connection than one revolving around purchases – one that continually pushes for conversations and listening – and this version of normal will certainly benefit loyalty programs all the more. 

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