Brands Can’t Bank on the Loyalty of 50+ Consumers

barish blogWhen I moved from San Francisco to New York City five years ago at the age of 50, I opened a checking/savings account with a new bank. I really liked my old bank. In fact, we’d been together for more than three decades—since my freshman year in college. I’d picked them because they were the only bank in my college town that would issue a credit card to an 18 year old; that trust fueled my loyalty.

But as I prepared to move to New York City, I could see that they just weren’t going to be there for me, offering just a handful of ATMs and even fewer branches. I felt conflicted, as it was difficult not to be attracted to other banks that would be there for me at every corner, deli and pharmacy.

But, I couldn’t say goodbye just yet. I mean I wasn’t 100% sure I’d even like living in New York, much less taking on a new bank. So I kept my California account, using it for monthly rental deposits and mortgage payments for the house that I had decided to rent rather than sell. We were in touch only occasionally—we began to grow apart.

Luckily I did like New York. In fact, I loved it. And I really felt a growing attachment to my new NYC bank—its fancy IPhone app and its 24/7 accessibility. So this past December, when I finally decided to sell my California home, I knew that it was time to consolidate my bank accounts. This proved to be harder emotionally than I thought it would be. I wasn’t quite prepared for the end of the relationship. In fact, I mumbled my request to close my account, and I could barely make eye contact with the banker when she said, “Wow, you’ve been with us since 1979.” I wanted to say, “I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me.” But I knew that wasn’t true. It was them. What they were offering just wasn’t enough, and I needed to move on. As she handed me the cashier’s check she said, “You can come back anytime.” But I knew I probably wouldn’t, and that made me feel sad, guilty and mad that I had to go.

So when I went to my NYC bank to deposit what I’d withdrawn from the old, I felt compelled to share with the teller that the funds were from another bank account that I had just closed. I wanted her to know that I had picked them over somebody else. I desperately wanted her to nod knowingly and say, “I know, breaking up is hard. But you made the right choice.” But she didn’t.

And that’s when it hit me; I hadn’t really wanted to go. What I really wanted was for my old bank to give me reasons to stay. And to say things would be different. I mean, we’d been together for 34 years. Wasn’t our relationship worth saving? But in the end, they didn’t respond the way I needed them to. And so, I had to go.

So this is my advice to companies and brands that want to keep the fires of loyalty burning with their long-term customers. We don’t want to break up you. We want to stay, and continue to grow old together. We’ve been through a lot, so why throw that all away? But when you don’t pay attention, listen to our needs, change with us or acknowledge that we are changing, we need to leave no matter how many experiences or memories connect us. We don’t want to leave. We’re waiting for you to give us reasons to stay.

Some tips for brands to stay connected to 50+ (click to tweet):

1. Reintroduce yourself.
Just because I’ve been a customer for three decades, doesn’t mean I know you or that you know me, anymore. We’ve both changed, so make sure you let me know how you’ve changed and why that matters to me.

2. Acknowledge shifting loyalties.
Let me know that you know that my loyalty isn’t guaranteed, and you’re not taking me for granted. Like any relationship, it needs continued care and work. Show me that you’re still working to keep my business.

3. Provide a longevity roadmap.
Do the relationship math. For instance, I was 18 when I opened the account with my California bank… and that made me a customer for 34 years. At 54, I’m not ready to retire just yet, and there’s an opportunity for brands, particularly financial institutions, to help me map out my next 34 years.

If you’re interested in Marketing to 50+, email me at andrea.barish@ketchum or leave a comment below.