In Pursuit of Loyalty?
Jun 2013 17

You already know that loyalty isn’t what it used to be. Fewer and fewer of us seek permanence of any type. We are staying single longer (marriage age is at an all-time high) and we are quick to abandon marriage at alarming rates (the first marriage divorce rate is as high as 50 percent in some reports with divorce rates of second and third marriages even higher). Some psychologists even argue that “playing the field” is hardwired in our DNA. So is “asking” our customer for loyalty really the best way to achieve our business goals?


For the sake of level setting, I’m defining loyalty as “a sense of duty or of devoted attachment to something or someone.” This definition leads me to believe that loyalty requires an emotional attachment that many brands may not command nor are many customers willing to offer. Even suggesting “loyalty” could send them running the opposite direction.


If, however, we are able to achieve a degree of customer loyalty, studies suggest the attachment will be based on our ability to meet or exceed our customers’ expectation of our values, product quality, etc. It will be rooted in the way we communicate with them and the experience we create. It absolutely will not be based on the discounts or points our customer might receive by continually purchasing. Should our ability to deliver on these expectations or the experience change, so will her loyalty. And quickly.


I am willing to grant you that attitudinal or emotional loyalty feels better because it’s deeper and “for the right reasons.” But it is also very hard to achieve and very easy to lose. It’s my opinion that in most cases we as marketers should put our egos aside and instead aspire to create a simple habit — “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.”


While less emotionally fulfilling to us, habits can be easier to form and much harder to break. In fact, many studies suggest that a habit can be formed as early as the third occurrence. It is triggered automatically by a set of contextual cues with little regard to product price, quality, etc. And habits allow us to skip all the emotional baggage.


I recently read a study that found moviegoers ate the same amount of popcorn while at the theater regardless of whether the popcorn was fresh or three days old. What mattered was that the moviegoers had established a habit of eating popcorn at the theater. As long as that contextual cue was there, so was their purchase.


Now, you may believe that either is fine as long as it increases your sales and share of wallet. While that is true from a strictly business perspective, my intent is to illustrate that while the purchase outcome may be the same, the way to build your program and the way to engage your customer is and should be very different.


So what should we do?

  1. Be honest with yourself. Is your brand in a position to build an emotional and loyal relationship with its customers or is it more likely to be a brand that benefits from establishing a habit? The approaches are decidedly different and so are the consumer barriers.
  2. Understand your brand’s role. Where do you currently fit and where could you legitimately fit if your current role is not enough? Like anything, it’s a process. Make sure you aren’t trying to up the ante on the “serious” scale too quickly.
  3. Leverage digital to nurture the relationship. Mass media will always be important to get your brand on the list, drive a craving or even start a conversation. But when it comes to building a relationship and establishing and leveraging purchase cues, very few platforms are as effective as those we use in the digital space.


Culled from