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