Ask any marketing executive what customer loyalty means to them, and you will get a variety of answers. So when Lotalty360 CEO Mark Johnson recently had the chance to talk with the top marketers of some of the top consumer brands, he posed that question of what customer loyalty means to them.

For Krystal Zell, vice president of customer marketing and operations at The Home Depot, they have two different types of customers, and each is very distinct types of consumers. They have their DIY customers who are doing projects in their homes.

"Those customers are obviously super important to us," she says. "We also have a different customer segment, which is our Pro customer, who is somewhere between 40 and 45 percent of our revenue, but actually only about 5 percent of our customers."

Zell says the Pro customer has always been important to The Home Depot and has mattered to them pretty significantly in terms of their overall business. Over the past several years, they've taken more effort to really get to know the Pros better.

"So loyalty for us is really all about wanting that pro customer to choose all of the materials that they need for a given project from us without even thinking about it, without even making the comparison," she says. "We are all about capturing that full project and that full capability for our customer. And the other thing I would say is we are really passionate about making our Pro customers successful, helping them meet the needs of their customers, making them the hero to their customers. And so loyalty for us is not just about capturing that full project, but it's really about making our Pros successful. They're business people, they're running businesses, and we are all about making them successful."

Building an Engaged Base
Lisa Erickson, Senior Director CRM and Loyalty at Sleep Number, has been with her company for 10 years, and early on it was all about repeat and referral sales.

"We didn't talk a lot about engagement," she says. "But Sleep Number has a base of people that genuinely love our product, and it's made a big difference in their lives. We knew if we could build this engagement base and have people engaged in the brand more, we'd have success, and that's precisely what we did."

Andy Rebhun, Vice President of Digital for El Pollo Loco, says brand loyalty for him means For me specifically, it's giving the customer an ability to really have an emotional connection with the brand.

"And obviously by loyalty, we mean engaging in our emails, engaging in our digital content, our digital presence, transacting with us on a regular basis," he says. "One of the fascinating things with my transition from Ford to McDonald's is Ford is one of those companies where you buy a car every three, five, 10 years, it's one of the biggest purchases you're going to make in your life. And so it's a really long decision, whereas McDonald's and El Pollo Loco, it's one of those things where sometimes people will decide the night before they're doing a big catering meal and it might be a week before, but essentially the cost of entry and the price point is a lot more competitive because it's very spur of the moment. It's very reactional in nature. And so, loyalty to me is really having that emotional connection with the consumer and the ability to transact and engage with them on multiple levels."

Having Deeply Loyal Fans
Patrick Stewart, CEO of Apricot Lane Boutiques, uses a modern-day signing stars as a comparison for what customer loyalty means to them.

"Taylor Swift has hugely loyal fans that are called Swifties, and Justin Bieber has hugely passionate fans and followers called Beliebers," Stewart says. "We have very deeply loyal fans too, and they're called Apricuties."
So, how do Apricot Lane Boutiques develop these passionate customers?

"It's beyond a shopper; it is a passionate fan base," he says. "And they're typically thought of as the top 10% of the people that shop; you see them the most, they represent the most overall dollar spent, and they're buying the first-run products. They aren't looking for sales. They just really have a high level of engagement."

Devyn DeMatteo, Marketing Manager for the Charlys and Bibibop food chains, says customer loyalty is really about making sure their brands are at the top of mind for their guests when they're thinking about where they're going to eat their next meal.

"In addition, that they valued the entire brand experience and prefer us over alternatives and that ultimately they would recommend us to friends and family," DeMatteo says. "And we'd love for our guests become brand ambassadors as well.

Every Dog Need To Play
Brandon Delgrosso, General Manager of KONG Box, says the brand always asks itself if they are creating an emotional bond with the customer, and is there any sort of engagement?

"I think a lot of the decisions we make as far as the brand with KONG Box is, are we seeing that happen? Is there an emotion? Are the owner and the dog experiencing the fun, joy and happiness by just playing together? And are we encouraging that? And then, are they engaging with us and our social channels that we have?" he says. "I think those are things we look at as far as from customer loyalty, and building that culture. We have a saying that all dogs need to play. And we focus on that. If it's every dog that needs to play, and that's kind of our mission, what are we delivering to make that happen?"

Ben Cooke, Vice President Of Business Development at Fleet Feet, and Ellen Donahue, the brand's Vice President Of Marketing, say customer loyalty is closely aligning themselves with their core customers.

"How are we creating relevance? How are we connected? And are we becoming more relevant with the actions that we're taking every day?" Cook says. "And I think with COVID, we had to stay super nimble and be relevant to the customers when they wanted safety. We had to be there right in front of it with safety, and when they wanted access or whether they want curbside or different types of things, virtual fits, that's where we were."

Donahue says the way they define customer loyalty is making sure that all of their strategies are loyal to the customer, and customer-centric in their approach,

"We're tapping into their needs and making sure that all of our business decisions are really rooted in creating a better experience for the customer, then we are delivering on a product that they need for the customer," she says. "The payoff hopefully is that Fleet Feet is more top-of-mind for all of their solutions, their training programs when it comes down to that decision to be made. But we're not in a position to be demanding or expecting loyalty unless we are really focused on customer centric strategies."

Making Customers Feel Special
Nir Patel, President of Belk, says that customer loyalty reinforces the fact that the customer is the most important.

"It's why we're all here, and we're trying to make our customers sticky to us, and we're trying to reward them in a way to make them sticky and reward them in a way, whether it's great service, great value, a great, safe place to shop, easy and convenient shipping methods, picking up your orders, things like that," Patel says. "But loyalty to us, it's really important. Every retailer, every person tries to hang on to their customers. We want our customers to feel special. We get to know our loyalty customers. We also get feedback from our loyalty customers; they're the most vocal of any customer group. They tell us what we're doing right, and then they also tell us what we're doing wrong and we can improve on. So, it's almost the starting point for every conversation: what are our most loyal customers doing?"

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