Wednesday, January 30

Breaking Up With Your Consumers

They say that breaking up is hard to do ... especially when you're a brand trying to figure out how to manage your loyal consumers.  Consumer loyalty programs are a great way to keep consumers connected to the brand, but they are often costly in terms of time, energy, and money.

So when a brand has spent years developing a loyalty CRM (frequent flyer) program, how do they gracefully back out of it when it's no longer feasible?

It's like breaking up a relationship.

The answer?  There's no easy way, no easy way.

Which was exactly my reaction when my friend sent me her "break up" note from Stonyfield Farms yogurt.  They told her that they were canceling their loyalty program (My Stonyfield Rewards), toot sweet.  It was a "Dear John" letter of the marketing kind, and just as awkward.

Now I am sure that the brand struggled with this decision and how to execute it.  There's no easy way to break up with consumers.  I am sure that they did the best they could under the circumstances with a very sincere email letter.  These programs are incredibly expensive ... trust me, I've designed and executed a bunch of them.

The problem is that when we break up, we always want to know why. So how far should a brand go in explaining the cancellation of such a loyalty program?

My suggestion?  Full transparency.  Say why, say when, say how ... and maybe throw in a little parting gift.  Sort of like sending white roses afterward.  And say you're sorry.  Just like when you're breaking up any relationship.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Jim Joseph
President, Cohn & Wolfe NA
Author, The Experience Effect series
Marketing Professor, NYU

PS - Join us Sunday night for live tweeting during the Super Bowl at #SBExp - all about the marketing!


  1. Agree completely! And while it is never easy to end a reward program, so often a lack of design & investment understanding require brands to do so. I wonder if the relationship was built on good conversation, shared interests, and a few less gifts instead, if they would have had to break up at all….

  2. Experiencing that very breakup with Stoneyfield now, Jim, and you sure captured the essence of it.

    Might add the Temptations' line, "A taste of honey is worse than none at all" to summarize my feelings.

    Disappointed, course, because I like their yogurt (as does my family). But y'know what, this can also be liberating, b/c I can try other yogurts without feeling beholden. Hey, look at that - the yogurt cup is half full.

    Thanks for your blog - keep up the good work!

  3. Great comments from two experts in the field ... love seeing you here! JIM.