loyalty is broken

The Broken Promise of Loyalty: Why It’s Failing and How to Fix It

A bit of context before you read this. I have a lot of respect for loyalty marketing professionals. A lot. They are, collectively, some of the smartest people in business and are also some of the most generous with their time and expertise. That being said, they (we) spend a lot of time discussing trends and technologies when IMHO we should be spending that time understanding the sea-changes in consumer expectations, channels and experiences.

Don’t agree with me? Then stay tuned to this space. Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing in some of the heaviest of heavy-hitters to illuminate loyalty’s path forward.


Loyalty marketing was supposed to be the golden ticket to customer retention. It promised to create unbreakable bonds between brands and their customers. Yet here we are, watching as loyalty programs turn into irrelevant, uninspiring clutter. The problem isn’t the concept; it’s the execution. Let’s break down the train wreck that is modern loyalty marketing and chart a course for its redemption.

Transactional Rewards: The Shiny Objects That Don’t Last

Look, points, discounts, and freebies can only take you so far. They’re like sugar highs—great in the moment, but they crash hard. Customers aren’t loyal; they’re bargain hunters hopping from one brand to another, chasing the next best deal. This race to the bottom commoditizes loyalty programs, making them more of an expectation than a delight.

Transactional rewards have led to a sea of sameness. Every brand is offering the same points system, and it’s not moving the needle. It’s time to stop treating loyalty like a transactional relationship and start focusing on creating genuine connections.

Personalization: The Fantasy vs. Reality

In an age where consumers expect personalized experiences, loyalty programs are delivering cookie-cutter solutions. It’s like going to a Michelin-star restaurant and being served McDonald’s. Brands are sitting on mountains of data but are clueless about how to use it. Data without insight is just noise.

The lack of personalization stems from outdated data practices and a reluctance to invest in advanced analytics. Without harnessing this data, brands miss golden opportunities to engage customers in a meaningful way. The future belongs to those who can turn data into a personalized experience.

User Experience: The Digital Nightmare

Consumers demand seamless, intuitive experiences. Yet many loyalty programs are a digital disaster—clunky interfaces, convoluted reward structures, and sign-up processes that feel like a trip to the DMV. If customers need a user manual to navigate your program, you’ve already lost them.

The digital age demands simplicity. Brands must streamline their loyalty programs to ensure they are as user-friendly as their most popular app. Anything less is a failure.

Mobile Integration: The Missed Boat

Smartphones are the epicenter of consumer engagement. But many loyalty programs are still operating as if it’s 1999. This oversight is a colossal failure. Customers expect to manage their loyalty accounts, receive offers, and redeem rewards from their mobile devices. Brands that lag in mobile integration are missing the boat—and customers.

To stay relevant, loyalty programs must be optimized for mobile. This isn’t optional; it’s essential.

Short-Term Gains: The Enemy of Long-Term Relationships

Brands are obsessed with quick wins, prioritizing immediate sales over long-term relationships. This short-term thinking might spike engagement temporarily, but it does nothing for genuine loyalty. It’s a classic case of penny wise, pound foolish.

Loyalty marketing should be about the marathon, not the sprint. Building lasting relationships requires a long-term focus and a shift from transactional to relational strategies.

Emotional Engagement: The Missing Ingredient

True loyalty is built on emotional connections. Yet most loyalty programs are fixated on tangible rewards. Points and discounts have their place, but they aren’t enough to forge deep, lasting bonds. Brands need to tap into the emotional drivers of loyalty through storytelling, personalized experiences, and values-driven marketing.

Fragmented Journeys: The Disjointed Experience

Customers interact with brands across multiple channels, yet many loyalty programs fail to provide a cohesive experience. This fragmentation results in inconsistent messaging and missed engagement opportunities. Brands need to integrate their loyalty programs across all touchpoints to deliver a seamless customer journey.

Innovation: The Stagnation Problem

Innovation is the lifeblood of relevance. However, many loyalty programs are stuck in the past, relying on outdated models and technologies. This lack of innovation leads to stale, uninspiring programs that fail to captivate modern consumers.

Brands must embrace innovation, leveraging technologies like AI and machine learning to deliver personalized and engaging experiences. The future of loyalty marketing depends on the ability to adapt and evolve.

Data Privacy: The Trust Factor

In an era where data privacy is paramount, many loyalty programs mishandle customer data, eroding trust. Brands need to prioritize transparency and ethical data practices, clearly communicating what data is collected and how it’s used. Building trust is essential for fostering loyalty.

Adapting to Consumer Expectations: The Agility Imperative

Consumer expectations are a moving target, and brands need to be agile in responding to these shifts. Many loyalty programs fail to keep up, rendering them outdated and irrelevant. Brands must continuously monitor trends, gather customer feedback, and iterate on their programs to stay relevant.

The Path Forward

Loyalty marketing, as it stands, is a mess. But it doesn’t have to be. By addressing the flaws—over-reliance on transactional rewards, lack of personalization, poor user experience, inadequate mobile integration, short-term focus, insufficient emotional engagement, fragmented customer journeys, lack of innovation, data privacy concerns, and failure to adapt—brands can breathe new life into their loyalty programs.

The key is to shift from transactions to relationships, prioritize continuous innovation, and focus on the needs and desires of customers. Brands that can master personalization, deliver seamless experiences, and build emotional connections will lead the way. The future of loyalty marketing is about creating programs that are not just effective but also enduring, paving the way for long-term success.

Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

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