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3 customer loyalty trends to watch for in 2019

Customer loyalty platforms truly came into their own in 2018, as more brands realized that rewards programs could offer more to their customers than just cost-savings, thereby driving long-term value. Forrester Research shows that customers who feel valued are far more likely to continue buying from a brand, increase the amount they spend with that brand and even advocate for it.

Successful customer loyalty strategies focus on personalization and experiential benefits today, and those trends are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Looking ahead to 2019, what other customer loyalty trends will dominate brand relationships? What strategies will separate customer loyalty leaders from the rest of the pack? Expect these three customer loyalty trends to really take off next year.

1. Greater focus on social media

Customer loyalty strategies often focus on rewards program apps and digital platforms, but social media is an important tool for engagement as well. Annex Cloud recently announced a slew of predictions regarding the evolution of customer loyalty strategies in 2019, and chief among them was the belief that more companies would encourage both rewards program members and satisfied customers to take "social action" - that is, engage with brand or advocate for it over social media.

In fact, Annex Cloud expects brands to better integrate their social media and customer loyalty efforts, offering perks like rewards program points and exclusive discounts to encourage users to promote brands on social networks. Researchers found that customers who are incentivized to be more active on social media, sharing product photos, reviews and ratings, submitted 70 percent more user-generated content.

Social networks continue to be major avenues for customer engagement, and brands will increasingly look for opportunities to marry their social media presence with their customer loyalty strategies.

2. Building on the 'emotional economy'

Emotion is a crucial component of brand loyalty, influencing every step in the customer journey, from initial discovery to purchase to advocacy. Making a strong emotional connection with your target audience increases retention rates, enriches the brand experience and converts more satisfied customers into brand advocates.

While companies have in the past leaned on consumer data to better predict how customers will behave, the next step forward will be to determine how they feel and use those insights to drive their behavior toward a desired outcome. As Forbes contributor Billee Howard noted, this is what is commonly referred to as the "emotional economy," and it will be a major force in customer loyalty strategies in 2019.

Brands will need to merge their data-driven engagement efforts with experiential benefits to generate true emotional connections with their customer base. Successful companies will leverage innovative technological solutions and rewards platforms to make program members and return customers alike feel valued.

3. Creating a unified brand experience

The sheer number of brand touchpoints today makes consistent customer engagement a major challenge, but look for more companies to overcome this obstacle and create a cohesive brand experience in 2019.

Yotpo's Kim Winters highlighted the importance of uniform brand messaging to brand engagement, listing it as one of the top customer loyalty trends to implement next year. However, a unified customer experience goes far beyond messaging; it incorporates personalized interactions that recognize the valued customers across every touchpoint and customizes promotions, rewards program perks and other offerings based on an individual's shopping preferences and past activity. That is how brands can provide the kinds of experiential benefits that users demand from their customer loyalty platforms.

Cracking the customer identity conundrum is crucial to embracing any one of these customer loyalty trends in 2019. Whether you want to drive social engagement, establish an emotional connection with your audience or create a unified brand experience, you first need to achieve a full, 360-degree view of your customer base. As customer loyalty strategies continue to mature and evolve, expect more brands to implement customer identity management solutions to support their outreach and engagement efforts.