Is Loyalty for Sale?

Loyalty for Sale

“You know you’re paying too much!” my brother-in-law smirked at me, as I paid for the two suits I had just ordered. We had spent the last 45 minutes going through bolt after bolt of fabric at my tailor’s in New Delhi, India and had finally selected two weaves to be cut into a pair of three-piece suits.

Now, I have lived in Dubai for over half my life – and while I am not big on material trappings, I do like to dress sharp; especially for work. Besides, as someone who worked in Branding for over a decade – I am of the opinion that ‘packaging’ yourself to stand apart is a key aspect of how you position yourself… but that’s for another story.

So, every visit to India means a visit to my tailor, who happens to be the same tailor who cut my first ever suit jacket when I was a young lad of 15. Furkaan was an assistant cutter, back then and despite living in three different countries, having gained and shed several pounds (and all my hair), over the last three decades, he remains my go-to person for a custom, tailored suit. Admittedly, I have strayed a few times and, disappointed with each experience, find myself returning to him with a renewed sense of loyalty.

So if I’m so loyal and Furkaan such an amazing tailor; why did I try other options. Human nature, perhaps… seeking the new and (exciting) unknown. We will come back to this shortly.

Proudly wearing one of Furkaan’s exquisitely tailored suits. Photography courtesy Paula Scherson Photography (

Once I was given the opportunity to have a suit tailored, in Dubai and the experience was so incredibly bad that I swore never to go back. I walked into a beautiful shop and a very polite gentleman went through the motions – showing me various fabrics etc. etc. But the experience went downhill from there. I followed up on the day I was promised a fitting and every second day after and finally three weeks after being measured I was offered a ‘fitting’ – imagine my shock when I arrived at the appointed time, only to be told, “the driver was on his way with my suit”, and almost 50 minutes later, there was still no sign of it and the store manager was shuffling around avoiding eye contact. I left soon after, without having seen the suit. They called me back three days later.

On two other occasions I got carried away and bought off-the-shelf suits on sale… not a great idea when you have a body like mine.

Not only does Furkaan manage to get my fit absolutely spot on, every time; he remembers to send me a WhatsApp message on my birthday, every year… he does the same on Diwali, Christmas and New Years’ Day as well. Furkaan even asks after my children, like a proud ‘uncle’. When the season changes, he sends me swatches of fabric and even images of the latest styles.

I can order a suit via phone or on WhatsApp and Furkaan will cut, tailor and deliver it to my mother’s home, 15 miles (a 90 minute trip, one-way) without asking to be paid. There is an unspoken understanding between us offering me an indefinite credit line.

But this is not why I go back to him over and over, year after year. 

A loyal customer sees the value you being to each and every interaction between yourselves and truly value the relationship you are keen to build with them. 

Coming back to the suits I had just ordered – I had dropped six kilos over the first few months of the year, and therefore asked for my measurements to be taken again, following which Furkaan suggested a fitting, to make sure he got the fit right.

I had two days to leave and as I am sure, many of you will relate had neither the time nor the inclination to be stuck in traffic. I let him know I was happy to proceed without a fitting – but this gentleman takes a lot of pride in his work and wasn’t having any of it.

 The next evening, at 7pm – his assistant came home with a basted version of my jackets, a fist full of pins and a piece of chalk. He spent a half hour with me, making little marks and opening stitches, where they appeared to be tight.

Twenty-four hours later I had my suits, looking beautiful and fitting like a glove.

Given the service I receive, how could I possibly switch tailors? Maybe I do pay a little extra, but all I need is to remind myself about our shared passion for excellence, the history we share and the service he offers – and I know there is no one else’s suits I could ever wear.

So here are my key takeaways from this story, every word of which is true. 

Firstly, and most importantly, a customer who seeks discounts and savings – is not a loyal customer and never will be. He or she will go wherever is cheaper and a price-war is unwinnable. Don’t even try.

Instead, focus on understanding your customer and what creates value for them – often you will find creating value doesn’t cost much and your best customers are those who are not only happy to pay that little extra but more importantly will rave about you to their friends.

A loyal customer sees the value you bring to each and every interaction between yourselves and truly values the relationship you are keen to build with them.

So, ask yourself if you have a similar relationship with your customers? Are you able to codify your passion for your customers and empower your team with the appropriate processes to give customers a superlative experience; more importantly how do you infuse in them (your team) a passion to service a customer above and beyond what is expected and how do you reward them (your team) for their loyalty.

It is never enough to deliver the perfect product – yes I expect the suit to fit perfectly; but anyone with sufficient training can create a great suit and we are fast moving towards the possibility of AI enabled machines being able to do just that: so how do you create a bond with your customers, that keeps them coming back year-after-year, creating a bond that lasts a lifetime?

Loyalty as a human behaviour is predicated on emotion and balanced by rationality, so how do we remove cost from rational decision making and make it about affordability (Can you afford NOT to buy my product or service?); and make the emotional quotient about how your service creates convenience and value to make your customers’ experience feel truly unique and special.

Creating Loyalty – Technology Or Philosophy

Creating Loyalty – Technology Or Philosophy

We are a family of readers. My father, mother and even my kid brother, we are avid, voracious readers. I remember my first book – The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage by Enid Blyton. It was a mystery story set in England and I devoured every word, as it created a moving picture in my mind’s eye. I couldn’t put the book down and lost all sense of time, hating that feeling of it coming to an end.  When I asked if I could have another, I was told to read it back-to-front. My next book was gifted to me two Saturday’s later.

However, this is not a story about my reading habits. It’s a story about loyalty. Many hours of my childhood were spent at a bookstore called Tekson’s in South Delhi, while my mother went about shopping for fabric and other assorted items, I had little time for. What always amazed me about these visits was the way the owner of the shop would spring up and greet my mother by name, followed by instructions to assistants in the store to fetch specific new arrivals that he knew she would like. It made me feel really important, just being there.

A cup of tea would magically appear, made exactly the way my mother loved it and as she leafed through the pages of books being paraded before her, Mr Arora, the owner would tell her about the reviews he was getting from other readers. He would ask after my father and let her know he had new design books for him and when my mother would finally buy herself five to six books, he would knock off 20 percent as a ‘special discount’. I would be led off to the children’s section in the back where I would sit and read comic books, over the next few hours.

As I grew into my teens, I would often go there on my own and Mr. Arora would give me the same treatment – ask after my parents, offer me a cold bottle of pop and throw in a discount if I bought anything. When my father died, he was at the funeral, paying his respects, such was his relationship with our family.

Up until the age of 16, there was only one other bookstore I ever shopped at. Teksons Bookshop was my home away from home.

I sincerely believe, loyalty is a “Human”  conditions and therefore demonstrating loyalty is   about the basic,  know your customer, (genuinely) care of them and put your customer front  and center of your business.

Now here’s the thing – Mr Arora was like that with all his customers and that’s no mean feat. He knew everyone’s names – their family’s names and the kind of books they loved. He even knew how they took their tea. This was a walking-talking, human database and CRM system, before we had even heard these terms. See, there were no cards with Magstripes or chips, no points to be accrued, no tracking of our transactions, no emails with promotional offers and yet we, and thousands of other families shopped there, for years… This shop was responsible for inspiring thousands of children, just like me to read, and enjoy the magic of books.

The point I’m trying to make is, too many people focus on having the ‘right’ technology or a ‘structured’ programme before they embark on the ‘loyalty’ journey. I sincerely believe, loyalty is a ‘human’ condition and therefore demonstrating loyalty is about the basics – know your customer, (genuinely) care for them and put the customer front and centre of your business and you will reap the rewards.  

The Loyalty Paradigm

I have watched Mel Gibon’s Braveheart more times than I care to admit. And I watch it just for William Wallace’s speech as he rallies his troops to go into a battle they cannot win, and as he tells them, “They may take our lives but they’ll never take our freedom!” my heart swells and my eyes fill up… I want to be on that battlefield with him… I want to die for him.


Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Image credit: IMDB


In the Oscar winning Gladiator, Maximus tells his troops: “Three weeks from now, I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be, and it will be so. Hold the line! Stay with me! If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled,  for you are in Elysium, and you’re already dead! Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity.”

And who can forget Troy with the irritatingly handsome Brad Pitt, playing Achilles and leading the Myrmidons into battle with the cry “…my brothers of the sword. I’d rather fight alongside you than any army of thousands. Let no man forget how menacing we are. We are lions. You know what’s there waiting beyond that beach? Immortality! Take it. It’s yours!”

What this counter-intuitive sense of loyalty seems to have in common is a leader, risen from amongst them inspiring and challenging them; not to live but to give everything to a glorious and common cause. A narrative that links them all with a common, shared destiny and a glorious immortality that awaits – an immortality that will inspire others with their legendary heroism.

I have read books about war and watched movies depicting these scenarios with great fascination – From Russel Crowe’s Gladiator to Colin Farrel’s Alexander,  and numerous other such cinematic greats, and it never ceases to amaze me that the punter, the pawn, seems to unquestioningly follow these great leaders in to battle and often to their own deaths, bringing glory to “insert name here” over and over, through history.

I have myself led a small team of marketing strategists and creative advertising professionals for almost a decade, and list as my greatest professional failure, the inability to invoke the necessary LOYALTY required to get a team of perhaps 50 persons to work a few extra hours to get a ‘campaign’ to market.

I struggled to motivate them to come in (without an unspoken threat of some kind) on a Saturday, being given all kinds or excuses and reasons why they couldn’t make it.

If you’re laughing at the comparison, I am leveraging the word ‘campaign’ to draw a straight line between the two scenarios. A campaign being a series of operations or activities, designed to achieve a specific goal.

Now imagine for one moment, you are a general, commanding thousands of soldiers… your army has been trekking for months, no.. years following you as you invade new lands, plundering them on behalf of King and Country. With every battle you lose hundreds, maybe even thousands of soldiers to arrows, swords and spears. The treks through tropical forests, burning deserts and over windy, icy mountains take their toll as soldiers get sick and die from exhaustion, pneumonia and malaria.

But you go on.

When its come to professional environments, I do believe that people, colleagues and clients alike, aren’t loyal to company;    their loyalty and resulting commitment is to a person. 

What if a Private started to push back, debated or provided alternate strategies every time the Staff Sergeant gave an order? “But why do we need to cross that hill, sir?” or “Why can’t we just go around the enemy, instead of attacking them” or “But it’s really hot…”

 The chaos and the carnage would be devastating! So, what makes a soldier unquestioningly move in the direction of the threat? How does he (or she) overcome their fear of death? Is it loyalty to their country? Loyalty to the General or Sergeant or even loyalty to their regiment or platoon / squad?

I believe it may be – all of the above. A clear sense of vision. The “Why” that Simon Sinek talks about in his book Start with Why – about having purpose. But not a “Why” with regards to the minutia. It’s clarity of a broader purpose – why am I here and why it’s important, maybe even critical. Having a sense of ownership – “everything I do impacts my brothers and sisters and puts them and their families in danger or helps keep them safe”. And this clarity of purpose and ownership are supported by inherent personality traits such as a sense of honour, duty, integrity and a desire to serve, selflessly.

When it comes to professional environments, I do believe that people, colleagues and clients alike, aren’t loyal to a company; their loyalty and resulting commitment is to a person, more often than not a person they report to or deal with regularly – the one that pushes them to excel and helps show them how to be the best professional version of themselves, possible. This colleague also protects them and has their back, ensuring they are well supported and safe in the decisions they take. But how do you transfer extreme levels of loyalty to a situation that isn’t half as extreme; I mean a team of executives delivering advertising strategy and creativity isn’t exactly the Cosa-Nostra is it?

Is loyalty in the corporate environment dead and gone in the way chivalry disappeared from romantic relationships? Has the equation between employer and employee become nothing more than a mere transaction, as companies strive to serve their shareholders: adding and subtracting employees to balance the annual balance sheet and drive profits and dividends?

What are your thoughts? Would love to spark a conversation…

Loyalty and the Middle Eastern Customer

Loyalty and the Middle Eastern Customer

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country?” Uttered almost 60 years ago by John F Kennedy at his inaugural address, this simple call to action has become famous as a call to take responsibility and place community before self.

The word country could be replaced by ‘employer’ or perhaps even ‘favourite brand’, (when asking for advocacy) and still be somewhat relevant.

But in a region, where the majority of the population are expats and one could be made to leave in less than 30 days, how do you create a love for the country, let alone a sense of loyalty?

The following article examines possible ways to address this challenge and how we at QuickBrownFox Consulting address this:


The Middle East is an extremely transient society, and therefore the people who live here tend to be more transactional in nature. Over the years one learns that friendships have a shelf life and people will leave, employees still arrive on two year contracts both giving residents enough cause to question how much emotional investment they can/ will make.


Let’s talk for a moment about demographics – the average age across the GCC is 27 (Saudi Arabia is higher at 30) bang in the middle of the ‘millennial’ bracket – reputed for having little or no brand loyalty.

However, the Middle Eastern Millennial is an outlier here – with a study conducted by Google showing this segment to be significantly more loyal than their counterparts around the world. However, by the same token this segment and the market in general has high service expectations and are quite unforgiving when they feel ignored or poorly treated. One of the key reasons here is income-related entitlement.


From an income perspective, across the board, immigrants and citizens alike enjoy a relatively higher standard of living than their counterparts ‘back home’ or in other first-world countries. Income is tax free, there is a high level of safety and security, availability of products, services and brands is ubiquitous and banks are happy to lend money and encourage purchases with little or low collateral or guarantees. As a result, individuals tend to ‘live large’. The spectrum of expectations from a loyalty programme ranges from Points and discount generated savings to rewards and recognition by the way of money-can’t-buy experiences.

Nationality vs Income

As a marketer I have watched in disbelief the racist tendency to create segments by nationality – there is nothing more dangerous to any kind of marketing exercise, except perhaps when dealing with very specific socio-economic groups.

Therefore, in the model illustrated below – imagine for one moment the three concentric circles symbolise household income with the outermost ring being the lowest and the innermost representing the highest or wealthiest members of society. Furthermore, each wedge (marked ‘a’ to ‘h’) represents a different nationality. We propose and strongly believe that those in the inside circle have more in common with each other with regards to aspirations, desires, lifestyle, experiences etc. than those in the outermost circle. While those in the same wedge may be connected through language, food, pop-culture and perhaps even politics their lifestyles may not.

Cutting past this is the first challenge faced by loyalty marketers in the region.

A lot has changed in the post covid era with low customer confidence, customer are increasingly focused on unfortunately this team is subjective and what may be considered   of value to  one may have  no value to other.

 A loyalty programme first and foremost needs to understand the customer they are dealing with, and what is of value to them. Leading from the previous point – creating relevance is the most important. A colleague of mine loved to say – “I could buy the most expensive Armani suit, but if it doesn’t fit me, it’s worthless and will forever hang in the closet”. This is where a ‘Machine Learning’ based platform that is able to track and report the kinds of rewards being utilised will succeed. Starting from an experience or research-based baseline, the programme evolves continuously driving engagement by ensuring it is relevant to each segment, narrowing them down to a utopian, “segment of one”

 The model illustrated below is based on mapping relative appeal based on Socio-economic demographics. Behavioral Science theorises that (generally), members who are lower on the socio-economic scale are more likely to be influenced by Cashback, Discounts and Points as a reward, compared to recognition or experiences. Meanwhile, members higher on the scale are more likely to be impressed by recognition of their custom – experiences such as ‘Early-access’ to product or sales, or a one-to-one meeting with a dignitary or celebrity, in other words, ‘money-can’t-buy’ experiences. 

The Rewards Model

 Furthermore, data shows that females tend to prefer Financial Rewards, which are more practical, as compared to males who are drawn to Recognition based rewards that appeal to their ego. This is, however, a broad trend, with outliers and exceptions on either end.

 It is safe to say that programmes in this region should offer a combination of savings, rewards and recognition.

“Constant Gratification” vs “Instant gratification”

Customers’ low span of attention coupled with aggressive competition means members are quick to disengage if the opportunity to win/ earn a reward is perceived to be far or distant.

The requirement for ‘instant gratification’ has evolved into a hunger for ‘constant gratification’ – leading to a need to reward members with small prizes for small victories, as he / she works their way towards a series of larger rewards.

A successful programme will be underpinned by content relevant to the member while staying true to the key pillars of the brand or programme, giving members additional reasons to engage with the App.

The impact of Covid-19 on Loyalty

A lot has changed in the post-Covid era with low-customer confidence, customers are increasingly focused on “value” – unfortunately this term is subjective and what may be considered of value to one may have no value to another.

These are new and interesting times – and customers want to know they are cared for by the brands they engage with. Meanwhile, as brands start to show losses, they cut back on service staff, and on both, soft and hard programme benefits – a surefire way to lose not only customers but also their programme members.

So what does all this mean to you as a brand?

The Middle East is a Millennial Minefield with 48 percent of the GCC *(Gulf Cooperation Council States) market being in the 25-40 age range. These customers are loyal but unforgiving – build a platform to get to know them and remember they want to be seen as individuals. Your customer tends to have travelled and is well exposed to high standards of service delivery and demands the same. 

Programmes Around The World

Make sure you’re building an emotional connection that is underpinned by a meaningful rationale i.e. recognise and reward with generosity and relevance – a couple of dollars in cashback or points will not impress them. Last but not least – engage with them. Not just when they transact with you but when they need something… we like to call this ‘downtime engagement’ which is often more important than the few moments when the customer is transacting and earning or redeeming points. And remember they have a short span of attention – make it impactful and meaningful.

*Source Edelman, Youth and Young Adult: University of Missouri; PNC Financial Services Group: Euromonitor; Barron’s

The Importance of Managing Customer Bias

“There’s no way I’m switching now”. This was the fifth time I had heard my brother make the same excuse about changing his music platform. Regardless of the multiple new features I kept showing him on Spotify, trying to market the platform that I was so proud and passionate about using, he refused to budge. Between the hassle of having to re-create his entire library, and the reservations he had of leaving behind the feeling of familiarity, he had developed his loyalties to Apple Music.

In fact, the more I said it, the more it reinforced his inclination to the platform. However, what we will later see is that he was subconsciously acting on his ‘status quo’ bias.

In simple terms, these biases come from the study of ‘behavioural-economics’, that puts aside the idea that all customers are ‘rational’ in their choices and starts examining where and when people might use their emotional prejudices in their decision making. Heuristics are a vital, yet lesser-known aspect of consumer behaviour. These ‘mental shortcuts’ that allow people to make their brand and purchasing decisions are probably more commonly used than you’d think.

When I started to think that there must be a real deal-maker on Apple, I asked him what he loved so much about it. Perhaps it could convince me to change my platform too. However, much to my surprise, he seemed to be more against the idea of change than against Spotify itself. The key question here is then if this can be considered loyalty to the brand, or a loyalty to a sense of comfort and familiarity? Therefore the term – “status-quo bias” which explains why people sometimes will not change the situation even if at least one other better alternative presents itself.

Other than the fact that there have been various paradigms that try to define consumer loyalty, the debate over whether our preference for certain brands comes from an emotional or a rational point of view has highlighted the importance of loyalty programmes in business. 

But is loyalty influenced by a bias, or is it a bias in itself?

Think of a brand that you have been with for over three years. Whether it’s your go-to coffee shop, favourite clothing brand or a restaurant that never fails to satisfy your cravings. Why are you still with them? Is it based solely on their quality of service and value for money, or are you also settling for what might be ‘good enough’ instead of the ‘best of the best’, based on convenience or even familiarity?

Using Dettol handwash has never been questioned in my house. Not only has it become a rule of thumb, but the fact that it is a brand that has come with me from childhood, has meant that I never had any reason to question it. Rather than evaluating the product based on its value, I developed a sense of attachment to it. My loyalty was formed out of familiarity and maybe even nostalgia. Look around, this will also be true for at least one product in your house – just because of the longevity of its presence in your life, you may still gravitate toward that brand regardless of what its competitors might be offering. Here is our bias in its simplest, most common form.

What is also becoming more common in modern day is the presence of a ‘say-do’ gap: this is when customers are claiming one thing, but behaving differently, and is a prime example of emotional decision-making. For example, someone might claim that Cipriani is their favourite restaurant, but McDonalds is more of a regular appearance on their credit card bill. The logic behind this is fairly straight-forward: we might say what we believe we want our friends to think of us or perhaps even aspire to, but the truth is that sometimes the need to be financially frugal takes over.

The opposite is true when it comes to loyalty programmes with members telling you how much they save when they book flights with their favourite airline while in reality, they love the Limousine service, or the Business Class lounge access, they get as part of the deal.

To build an authentic strong and long-lasting relationship with customers, ensure that you are more than just affordable.

Showing our ‘loyalty’ to a high-end airline gives us what we can essentially call ‘bragging rights’, (yes we’ve all seen the business class lounge check-in on Facebook or the obligatory ‘Seat’ photograph) when it clearly isn’t the cost convenient option that a rational point of view would opt for.  

So how do we know if we are subconsciously acting on our more emotional instincts when making a decision? The answer is, you’re doing it all the time. Ever stuck with a brand because of the great first deal you got from them? That’s ‘anchoring’. Have you perhaps changed your mind about a brand based on a recently disappointing experience even though they have been consistently satisfying in the past? That’s ‘recency bias’. Just like this, several subtle yet dominant biases sit at the back of our subconscious minds, helping us decide which brands do and don’t deserve our undivided loyalty.

True Loyalty Is (Not) Transactional

This is an interesting debate – how are loyalty programmes that are predicated on a transaction considered true loyalty? I get asked this a lot – and while I have an issue with the name of this eight billion dollar industry (expected to grow to USD 18.17 billion by 2026) – let’s save that conversation for another day. I would like to postulate that as long as human beings need some kind of economic currency to live, and businesses use money as a currency to buy and sell goods and services, and measure success – transactions underpin most exchanges in life.

When we think of the connotations of loyalty, an ordinary person might think of a bond, relationship or connection between two things that is formed based on emotion. However, when it comes to brands trying to ‘buy’ loyalty, we find a situation where companies use money to create emotion.

But can customer loyalty just be bought?

Not necessarily.

Just because we interact with businesses on a transactional basis, does not mean that our relationship with these brands is just formed around money. Businesses have constantly been trying to understand what makes customers loyal. Between a competition to offer the best prices and trying to make their service as personalised as possible, corporations have been constantly raising the bar when it comes to trying to retain their customers. Particularly during the pandemic, several businesses were struggling due to a lack of regular customer base, and so loyalty to our favourite brands meant even more in such uncertain times.  

The debate as to whether loyalty can be bought is multifaceted; can we consider loyalty to be formed on a transactional basis, or an emotional one? While we do interact with companies based on an exchange of goods and services for money, the aspect of loyalty is not necessarily attached just to the value of the transaction.

Let’s take the example of the Samurai warrior. They were the well-paid retainers of the ‘daimyo’ (the great feudal landholders) or Shogun. They cultivated the ‘bushido’ codes of martial virtues when engaging in battle: indifference to pain and unflinching loyalty. In the 1870s, Samurai families comprised just 5 percent of the population. The Samurai would fight to the death for their Shogun, and a masterless Samurai was referred to as ‘Ronin’ (a derogatory term, used with disgust). If a Samurai’s Master were to die, the Samurai would typically kill himself from shame. How’s that for loyalty? Nevertheless, the Samurai were still paid for their services.  

 The reality is, loyalty is a combination of multiple things. 

Loyalty is not brought. its earned brand look developing a personal and affection dynamic with their customer.

Of course there is a rational aspect to it – we try to gravitate toward brands that we believe are giving us a good value for money. Transactional loyalty is very much centred around economics – convenience, price, and everything else that might influence the rational part of our decision making.

However, our emotional biases and perspective will also contribute to how a brand makes us feel. Is there a certain appeal of ‘exclusivity’ that this brand gives us? How do we feel when we talk about our purchase choices to our friends and family? Research has shown that customers will stay loyal to their brand even when alternative options are presented, partially because they are ‘emotionally loyal’ to them.

This type of loyalty does last longer, because our emotions are less likely to change as fast as the prices of other competing brands. We choose to devote our money, time and  purchase preferences to brands that make us feel special, and looked after. If the transaction isn’t ‘layered’ with other qualities like efficient service, the ability to personalise someone’s shopping experience, and customer care, there will inevitably be customer attrition.

So where do loyalty programmes fit into this? There are multiple loyalty programmes out there. If anyone has read ‘Why Loyalty Matters’, you’ll see that rational loyalty is a consequence of most brands being unable to generate an effective connection with customers. And just a loyalty reward programme will be unable to change that. We can put together the most elaborate, rewarding programme out there. But how far can that go in making a customer feel unique and appreciated?

I have lived this learning myself. My Sensei, John, was a man who devoted his life to teaching martial arts. I met him in 2003, and consistently trained with him right up to 2011, when I earned my black belt stature. I continued to train with him regularly, but various injuries reduced the frequency of my training. Then, his sudden and unexpected demise put a complete halt to my training. I packed away my belt, Gi and Hakama, without ever even considering training with someone else as my Sensei.

You see, I believe that the relationship with one’s Sensei is sacred. This person pushes you to your limits; they recognise your physical, mental and emotional potential and help you achieve it. Nevertheless, this relationship was ultimately based on a financial transaction. After all, I did have to pay for these classes, and Sensei did have a family to support. Still, none of that takes away from the bond we shared; I was, and remain deeply committed to him and to Aikido, as both have played a huge role in my life and given me value far beyond the fee I paid every month. Does this transaction then detract from the emotion of loyalty attached to it? 

I think of loyalty in ‘Maaslow’ terms. At the base of the pyramid, we can find for example, an employee-employer relationship, which is transactional. This could be where his salary is being paid on time. Then, we proceed further up the hierarchy, looking at functional benefits – such as the covered parking spot in the building.

Then we come to emotional loyalty – perhaps some words of appreciation in front of the office.  

As we proceed higher up, we reach the social aspect of loyalty – community based appreciation, which could perhaps be an invitation to an award gala or time off work to support a charity. And finally, the most intimate form of loyalty – a personal bond. Whether you wish me on my birthday, or ask after my children, both parties feel like there is a pure connection.

Ultimately, loyalty is not bought. It’s earned. Brands need to look at developing a personal, affectionate dynamic with their customers. It should not be a question of ‘can I get a better price elsewhere?’, but more of ‘will I be looked after like this elsewhere?’. There has to be just the right balance of value and quality of service to ensure loyalty is maintained from both sides. However the paradox of loyalty is the transaction and I believe this exchange is not only a part of loyalty, it actually underpins it.