Customer Loyalty by Generations

“Trust is earned, respect is given, and loyalty is demonstrated” is the first half of a quote by Ziad Abdelnour, Lebanese-born American financier. For many brands, customer loyalty can make a tremendous difference is how and whether that person’s friends and family follow the lead. But a survey in late 2019 by global marketing agency Merkle reveals how emotions and different generations play important roles.

What’s Similar

Although there are differences in how each generation responds to loyalty programs, a bond that binds them all is emotion. Brands that succeed in fulfilling consumer needs and emotions will foster loyal customers who return again and again – even without the greatest digital or Public relations programs.

What’s Different

Merkle discovered in its annual survey of more than 1,500 American consumers of all ages that while Boomers were less likely to download apps and use social media, they are interested in completing surveys, attending events, and writing reviews.

Merkle’s findings differed with most generations. Millennials and Gen Z, they reported, like to achieve and compete. While 35% relish badges as a feature, and another 27% like leaderboards, the younger Gen Zers favor programs that are community-focused. Of those polled, 19% also like to compete against others, while another 22% expressed a desire to connect with like-minded counterparts.

Earning Loyalty

Recognizing the generational differences and interests and adapting to them is critical to brands that appeal to different generations. Loyalty programs can be successful, especially if these challenges can be overcome.

While rewards are still highly valued, Merkle discovered that COVID-19 altered the way consumers like to earn rewards. The only constant was in gaming, where earning points remained number one. The change was that consumers said they wish to earn rewards even faster. Not surprisingly, respondents said their primary cause of dissatisfaction was the time it took to earn them.

When asked, 95% told Merkle they want to have a say in selecting their own rewards and benefits, while 59% revealed that the best way brands could get their attention was by offering surprise gifts and offers. An interesting revelation was that 35% said they want to be able to unlock the right tools or features to find what they’re looking for.


Customers favor rewards for free products and discounts, but when it’s either too difficult or lengthy to unlock, customer loyalty can actually be damaged, and their buying diminished. Brands need to find a good balance between the time it takes to earn rewards and redemption ease.

Engagement is important. Brands that identify common goals with consumers and meet them with unlockable content, educational tools, and possibly even competition will create deeper connections.

Personalization should be everywhere in the customer journey, particularly when it comes to rewards. Acknowledgment and recognition continue to be essential.

As in past annual surveys, respondents told Merkle that thank yous are still important in maintaining healthy relationships with loyal customers. Many added that surprise gifts or offers also help.

Loyal customers also said they want to feel like the brand truly knows them. Cherish and never betray that trust, or as the punchline to Abdelnour’s remaining half of his quote goes, “Betrayal of any one of those is to lose all three.”