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Never take for granted the simple act of a customer's walking through your doors. Each time, it symbolizes the passage across many thresholds to customer intimacy.

Take, for example, Canada's second-largest supermarket chain, Sobeys. The grocery business is brutal. Every broken box of cookies, every spilled milk bottle, and every bruised banana cuts into margins. So, Sobeys wanted to generate not only sales but also long-term emotional loyalty among its customers. And to do that, the grocer needed to connect with its shoppers in ways that resonated with each one.

In short, Sobeys wanted to appeal to customers in several areas—their personal interests, their stages in life, their locations, and their preferences.

So, the supermarket chain turned to our company for help in creating one-to-one direct-mail pieces for its loyalty card members. Each piece was based on a member's specific purchasing behavior. The pieces were highly individualized: of the 1 million pieces created and mailed, 987,000 were unique, containing a dozen customized product offers and coupons.

Then, to make sure that Sobeys reached consumers wherever they were, we sent those offers via direct mail, email, and website landing pages. Soon, the program will expand to mobile as well. The results? To date, promotional recalls have increased 66%, the unique open rate for emails is 37%, and the click-through rate is 26%.

That success demonstrates what we all should never take for granted: The relationship between a company and its customer is a collaborative bond, fostered via meaningful and well-timed communications and recognition. Without reaching the consumer with a well-pitched message at the desired time and in the right place, a company cannot achieve relevance and prosperous interactions. A company cannot get the customer across its threshold.

The path to relevance lies beyond four magic doors that reveal insights that can be used at different times or in the aggregate. I call them the Four Doors to Relevance.

These doors, as Sobeys and others have learned, open to four key behavioral dimensions of the consumer that, collectively, will make your message resonate.

1. Spatial

This door refers to the physical location (e.g., the neighborhood) where the customer lives, what daily travel routes she takes, and where she does business.

For example, in Finland, fast-food chain McDonald's partnered with Nokia to deliver mobile ads when its customers were near a restaurant. Consumers who clicked on the mobile ads viewed a promotion—one cheeseburger for one euro—along with directions to the nearest location. Nearly 40% of those consumers selected the click-to-navigate option, and overall the pilot program resulted in a click-through rate of 7%.

2. Temporal

Temporal, in its most basic sense, means timing... but it can also be expanded to reflect a big lifestyle shift. Is your customer having a baby, building a deck, or going on vacation?

If you operate a hardware store, for example, and you have data that shows your customer is adding a room or building a deck, then sending her offers for a host of building products is smart and timely. On the other hand, if she buys an expensive waffle iron as a gift from an upscale home-goods chain, and that chain then sends her offers to buy every small appliance imaginable on a daily basis... that's not smart marketing. The merchant should be using information from the customer's past purchases to guide its offerings.

3. Individual

The individual door reflects the consumer's unique and personal interests, passions, and values—anything from motorcycle-riding to recycling. The more you can find out about her—whether she is a stamp collector, a golfer, or a wine connoisseur—the better you can market to her.

And remember, just because she bought a waffle iron does not mean she is a foodie. The best data is that which is collected over time, considered in the context of other purchases, and cross-referenced to draw a complete picture of the customer.

4. Cultural

The cultural door includes any ongoing activities that regularly group people together. In addition to the standard definitions of race and religion, "cultural" includes any action or lifestyle choice that defines a person's activities. Accordingly, I also refer to this door as the "cohort" door. Sports teams, rare diseases, parenting... you name it: The cohorts a customer belongs to predict what products and services she needs.

* * *

Everything you do, throughout your company, should be organized around your customers. Put the customer at the center of your mission, and then work your way out to design the most relevant products, promotions, messaging, and location—the whole ensemble.

You have the ability to collect the data that'll enable you to become customer-centric; moreover, resources are available to use that data in ways that resonate regardless of where the consumer is in her life (time, location, and preference).

A relevant approach will always yield superior results. Once you master the tools of responsible data collection, you will be able to better recognize and appreciate your customers and their expectations as they move through the four doors... and as they walk through yours.

MarketingProfs is giving away 20 free copies of the author's book, The Loyalty Leap: Turning Customer Information Into Customer Intimacy. Visit, click the pre-order button, and enter the offer code PROF20; if you're among the first 20 to enter that code, you'll receive a free copy of the book.

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Bryan Pearson is president and CEO of LoyaltyOne and author of the The Loyalty Leap: Turning Customer Information Into Customer Intimacy, (May 2012).

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