Consumer loyalty, decision making and retail banking in a digital world

In 2010, the Harvard Business Review discussed how digital technologies, and the use of social media was impacting traditional thinking about the consumer buying journey. The way consumers were interacting and using these media was making the traditional funnel less relevant and expanded on the more iterative consumer journey. Three years later, much of this thinking is becoming a reality, even in markets where consumer loyalty is typically less reactive including retail banking.

Switching banks has never been so quick or so easy so it is imperative that high street banks reward their customers not only for their loyalty but also for their advocacy. These rewards could come in the form of cash back for recommending the brand to their network of friends and family, or higher interest rates for those that have a certain amount in the bank or have been with the brand for a specific number of years.

The financial crisis has constrained budgets and heightened risk-aversion, particularly amongst those who do not fully understand this space yet. Many firms are still reluctant to transform their marketing strategies to meet the needs of their increasingly digital consumer, even when it comes to simple improvements such as having a website optimised for mobile; attitudes like these will become perilous as the market continues to evolve and consumers look for new brands to align themselves with. As a result, it is becoming increasingly important to not only consolidate all elements of marketing with the consumer decision-making journey, but also integrate those elements across the entire organisation for more effective and seamless campaigns.

At this stage it is important to moot that not all loyalty is equal in today’s increasingly multifarious world. Customers can best be understood in two distinct ways – as active and as passive loyalists. Active loyalists will not only assert their allegiance to the brand but will also actively recommend it to their network of friends. Passive loyalists, on the other hand, will stay with the brand out of confusion or laziness (as a result of too much choice in the market), and as such will be open to messages from other competitors.

Because consumers are increasingly becoming passive loyalists (due to lack of time or vague brand identity), brands have a real opportunity to gain new customers and increase their market share. As a result, marketers must urgently rethink their strategy – focus spending on new touch points, reinvent their loyalty schemes, the way in which they manage customer experiences, and ultimately – expand the base of their active loyalists.