Brand loyalty has entered the chat. Amidst a global pandemic, inflation and consumer expectations for social responsibilities, brand loyalty has re-emerged as a hot topic. Brand loyalty certainly isn’t new, but it’s regaining momentum as organizations look to build and maintain customer relationships in uncertain and evolving times.
Understanding brand loyalty
It may feel elementary to start by defining what brand loyalty means, however, I believe it’s important. To some, the mention of brand loyalty immediately brings out commentary on the latest rewards programs. (Don’t get me wrong. I’m a sucker for half-priced Sonic Cherry Limeades all day long!) But the true essence of loyalty is much more complex.
True brand loyalty is a connection that extends well beyond a product or service. It’s an emotional connection, and one that is based on a level of pure affinity and devotion. For example, I share such allegiance with the brand Patagonia.
Patagonia has a passion for the outdoors like I do, but that’s not the only reason I feel a connection to the brand. My strong feelings, and why Patagonia has cultivated a loyal following from so many others, is its immense commitment to the environment. In an industry known for large waste production, Patagonia makes business decisions based on what’s best for Earth, even if it’s at the expense of a business opportunity. And as a result, I have true loyalty – both in terms of emotion and my pocketbook.
How to win your customer’s heart
A brand’s proactive position on social responsibility is just one of the many factors that build and maintain brand loyalty. Other top loyalty factors include affordability and product/service quality as well as delivery. Research that supports affordability is consumers’ top reason for advocacy, while delivery issues are the single biggest reasons consumers abandon top retail brands online.
But uncertain times are putting pressure on brand loyalty and increasing brand abandonment. Consumers are changing their shopping behaviors due to price increases, lack of product availability, more nimble competition and more.
Amazon is a great, though expected example. Amazon has changed the way people experience the functional aspects of a brand. Amazon is super convenient by quickly delivering readily available product. Amazon is also good at removing the friction from online purchasing. From start to finish—from single-click purchases to effortless returns—the customer experience is seamless.
In addition to delivering functional benefits, Amazon also cultivates emotional attachment. A few examples are value-adds that make members feel special, such as expedited delivery, subscriptions to Amazon music and Prime Video or perks at Whole Foods. Amazon knows what it takes to build customer loyalty to a brand, and it delivers it.
Loyalty begins with emotion
Loyalty is emotional, so are consumers. Loyalty is always about connection and expectations. Brands that hit on both will always do better. An example of this is Apple. It has a steady stream of product innovations that get consumers excited. Plus, its overall customer and service experiences are top-notch. I think there’s also the cachet of being an Apple user that is self-expressive (what it says about me for using Apple). That creates a desire for consumers to associate themselves with that cool factor. All of these are tied to emotion and affect loyalty to the brand.
Listen to your customers
At the end of the day, people will advocate for brands that functionally and emotionally address what they care about. And the best ways for brands to do that is by constantly listening to their customers. I’m massively committed to listening to the customer voice. In fact, I follow the adage, “What you have to say is interesting, but what your customers have to say is everything.”
Brands need to regularly solicit feedback so they can evolve their positioning and messaging to align with customers’ changing expectations and priorities over time. Then it comes down to execution and delivery, and the authenticity behind it. Consumers today are smart, so they know when something is believable or just another marketing message. But if you are authentic with your customers, and truly deliver what they care about most, you give your brand the best opportunity to win.
Want to hear more? Check out our podcast episode on how customer loyalty can help brands through the ups and downs of economic uncertainty. Available wherever you listen to your podcasts.