A lesson from LeBron James for loyalty marketers


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Here at COLLOQUY, a Google News alert for anything related to loyalty is essential — otherwise we’d spend needless hours scouring the Web for snippets of often only slightly-related industry news. Often, however, what seems like completely off-the-mark information comes our way.

Take the latest in the LeBron James basketball, saga, for instance. How could the fact that the star free agent signed with Miami, along with two other highly-paid B-ball stars, rather than sticking with the Cleveland Cavaliers, be relatable to our work in loyalty marketing?

Yet, the word “loyalty” — or lack thereof — seems to be sticking to LeBron James like glue — the first two pages of Google News mentions currently focus almost entirely on LeBron James and loyalty. The media has painted James as a disloyal, selfish player who thinks only of himself and his championship dreams, not a city full of Ohio fans longing for their hometown hero.

But does James really lack loyalty? And if so, is that something truly negative, or something others — say, loyalty marketers — can learn from?

LeBron James insists his decision is based on what is best for himself and his family — and doesn’t he have the right to decide on that? Here’s where I think loyalty marketers can learn what might be a hard lesson: No matter how great you think your product or service is, loyalty to your brand is not set in stone — ever. Ever. At any time, a customer’s brand loyalty can shift to your competitor, or away from the product altogether, due to a wide variety of factors from price and customer service to an income shift or geographic location change.

This means loyalty marketers always need to keep the “WIIFM” question in mind: That is, What’s In It For Me — right now? Your program may hit the mark this year, in terms of what your customers are looking for right now and your goals at this time. But you always need to stay on your toes and keep learning about what your customers want and need, ideally in as close to real-time as possible. What customers are looking for right now may not be the same as what they are looking for in six months, or a year. Your customer profiles may change as, say, you open stores in different geographic regions, or during different seasons of the year. The rewards and incentives you offer today may strike a chord now but may soon pale next to a competitor’s offering.

LeBron James obviously took the “What’s In It For Me — Right Now” to heart — and the non-Miami basketball world needs to not take his decision personally. Similarly, loyalty marketers need to know that customers will always, ultimately, do what’s best for them — and a good loyalty program can only coax them into shifting their behavior in ways that are a win-win for both customer and company. It means you have to constantly be willing to make shifts in your program offerings; tweak your promotions; and dive into your data ever-more-deeply to gain customer insights that help you get a slam-dunk (or a solid three-pointer) when it comes to loyalty success.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. As a Cavs fan, Akronite and marketer – the temptation to resist commenting was too great. I agree wholeheartedly with extending the WIIFM question to include “right now”. It’s true, what was important to me then, is not what’s important to me now, so marketers need to stay on their toes. However, the problem with the Cavs organization in trying to keep their star customer, Lebron James, is that there was poor communication, lack of transparency and very little trust…finally leading to a lack of honest feedback from the player to the organization about needs, desires, expectations and intentions. So, I’m just adding another dimension to your excellent example. Building a solid relationship with your customers will get you the honest feedback you need in order to stay in the loyalty game. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not add a final thought on “millennial loyalty”. My feeling is that Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert, knows very little about how to market to this new generation. They are indeed a unique bunch 🙂


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