Customer loyalty programs are funny things. They often walk a fine line between promise and flattery, between exclusivity and exploitation. These programs are laced with words and imagery that reinforce the sense of entitlement, achievement and reference “awards” and benefits.
But in a socially connected world, awards, entitlement and even exclusivity can be turned on its head. Right now, Qantas is at the heart of this new brand experience.
A few days ago I wrote What Qantas Will Learn from its Social Customers. There were five key lessons:
- The social customer is ubiquitous: it’s not just Facebook or Twitter. They write blogs, publish stories and photographs. They share these with hundreds – if not thousands – of friends with the click of a mouse and a glare of disdain
- The social customer wields influence with a swagger: they have grown up with the internet and have more tools at their disposal than you let through your firewall. They move fast and do so with intent. If they can impact the decisions of others (to not purchase with you) they will do so.
- The social customer is not your friend: they don’t want a platitude and they won’t go quietly. They will remember your words and your actions and they will choose their purchases carefully and with deliberation.
- The social customer is the 99%: they can smell inequity at a hundred paces. You’ve just given them a reason to chose another brand who understands their lifestyle and their priorities.
- The social customer is developing a social conscience: it’s taken decades, but it is forming. Just take a look at the Edelman Trust Barometer. Brands will be judged by their actions.
But things have progressed, and by “progressed” I mean “become worse”. Yesterday’s promotional efforts using Twitter and the #qantasluxury hashtag have been widely regarded as a failure or PR disaster. But I think it goes deeper than that. It’s a malaise that goes to the very heart of the brand and the disconnect between Qantas the brand and its customers.
You see, social media can become damaging to your brand when you ignore the real messages of social media – the wide cultural and personal transformations that I call The Social Way. Without understanding and translating these into your business the gulf between your brand and your customers will continue to widen. If Qantas (or their advising agencies) had understood, for example, the Five Stages of Social Media Grief and had applied this to understanding their customers, then perhaps, #qantasluxury could have been a completely different campaign.
What we are seeing is a widespread “falling out of love” with the Qantas brand. And with this comes a sense of loss. Grief. The Australian public and travellers, in particular, are having to come to grips with a changed reality – where the relationship and trust that they once had in the Qantas brand has evaporated through purposeful direct action of the Qantas management and Board.
And when the audience, formerly known as “Qantas Customers” have not yet moved into the “acceptance” phase of the grieving process, any brand activations must be carefully considered, planned and executed.
The Twitter stream of conversation (as shown above) seems to be still accelerating and now #qantasluxury appears to have been awarded the ultimate social media honour – the production of its very own Downfall spoof (see Parodies in this Wikipedia entry). When your customers go to the trouble of producing media like this, it’s the equivalent of entering the social customer hall of shame. It’s not an award that Qantas would like, I am sure, but I have a feeling there is still a way to go before this peters out.