• CVO – Chief Voodoo Officer

The loyalty initiative that’s *not* like a Ferrari.

Updated: Feb 3, 2021



Doug DeMuro Ferrari
credit: Doug DeMuro

Loyalty programs can be like Italian cars: beautiful in theory, but disappointing in real life.


Voodoo CRM likes this fresh idea from heavy hitters A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin, who suggest that loyalty originates in a silky-smooth path to purchase—something just as important as optimizing your rewards program or hiring a hipster ad agency. Maybe more.


Their idea in a nutshell

Brains are tired and hate to think. When we make decisions in reflex-mode, as opposed to “conscious” decision-making mode, we feel better...physically better—happier, safer, more comfortable. The path to reflex-mode is habit; repeated makings of the same decision solidify good feelings. Like a pair of Nikes, decisions just feel better with a little wear. We even grow attached to them.


So what? So your job with existing customers is to grease the skids—to make it easy and obvious to re-buy.

Don’t change how your product looks or what your brand feels like. Unless a crisis has sullied your name (oh hey, Arthur Andersen!), don’t change it. Got a logo? Leave it alone. Make purchase a matter of habit, not of choice, because choosing things is hard; tossing them in your shopping cart—like you’ve always done—is easy.


But brands today torture our sleepy brains, working against our instincts for comfort. Lafley and Martin assert that companies are engaged in full-scale war against fragmented markets, evolving competitive threats, and distracted consumers. Weapons in the battle are their knack to change all things all the time...habitually re-jiggering business models, product offerings and advertising.


Example: Facebook | MySpace

Much has been written about why Facebook bested MySpace. But the authors’ lens on that victory is discomfort. While Facebook fostered a consistent, reliable experience and aesthetic, MySpace was, visually, a mess. Each user’s page looked different. Ads were everywhere. New, unrelated features abounded...from book lists and security systems to a music player, virtual karaoke machine and classifieds program. None of it fit together. Net-net: visiting MySpace abused tired brains.


In practice: four rules + examples

Here are the four rules from Lafley and Martin to engender loyalty. For illustration, we add how each would apply at a company we all know – General Motors:


  1. Become popular early: you can’t re-write history, but the first mover who wins majority share is the built-in familiar choice. If we were GM entering the flying-car category, we might spend a little too much money on dominating the category, so we could become the reflexive choice.

  2. Design for habit: your branding—and even your product itself—should lend itself to soothingly familiar interaction. “CrackBerry” is no accident; RIM designed the BlackBerry to elicit a habitual series of actions: vibrate—grab—read—type. If we were GM, we’d make our car door handles into Chevy logos, to forge a hand-to-brand bond.

  3. Innovate inside the brand: P&G created a brand to house a product innovation—liquid detergent—1975. It flopped, because, while everyone knew “Tide,” nobody knew “Era.” P&G changed course and branded future detergent innovations within time-worn “Tide.” If we were GM, we’d have launched Saturn not as a standalone brand but rather as a product within GM—a brand name with near-100% recognition. (We’d have saved a cool $5 billion, in launch costs, too.)

  4. Keep communications simple. Advertisers wildly overestimate how much we’re paying attention, so you should tell the simplest-possible stories that a lazy mind—i.e., everyone—won’t misinterpret. Example: Ads that spend 25 seconds demonstrating problems with existing products, then 5 seconds explaining their own product. The lazy brain reads, “This product has those problems.” If we were GM, we’d challenge our agency to pursue the simplest possible ad featuring mostly our logo and little else. That’s unorthodox, but most of us don’t remember the last GM commercial we saw.


So keep your Chevy...


Yes, we need loyalty systems sporting the right mix of points, surprise-and-delight moments and exclusive experiences. But let’s make ourselves the reflexive choice as best we can. Buying a Ferrari? Great...just keep your Chevy, too.