Brand Loyalty isn’t Dead – Don’t “Buy” the Hype

Digital Marketing


Confession: I make most of my major purchases between the hours of 9pm and midnight, usually in my pajamas, and often after a glass of wine (or so) at dinner. Such was the scene earlier this month, when I decided to buy a Fitbit. Why? Fitbits, which measure the calories you burn and steps you take throughout the day, combine three of my favorite things: 1) exercise, 2) gadgets, and 3) hard data with which to brag about my achievements.

Credit card by my side, I started my research. At first, the only question was which Fitbit to buy. Which features did I need? Did I want a bracelet, or a clip on? How important was the alarm clock? As I pored over the reviews, I widened my search further. Were Fitbit-brand products the most accurate at counting calories? Was its competitor, the Jawbone, more attractive? Did I want a heart rate monitor instead? I’d opened my laptop determined to make a purchase, but over an hour later, I was exactly 0% closer to Fitbit ownership.

The Changing Face of Brand Loyalty

Because I had no loyalty to Fitbit or to Jawbone, neither brands carried any special power. I could view both brand’s products, side-by-side, on any number of retail sites. So as I researched, I wasn’t worried about the brand of my new step/calorie counter – I just wanted the best functionality at the best price.

This is exactly the kind of purchasing experience that inspired an article published in The New Yorker earlier this month, declaring that brands have never been more fragile. “The reason is simple,” writes James Surowiecki. “Consumers are supremely well informed and far more likely to investigate the retail value of products than to rely on logos.”

There’s data here too: according to a recent Ernst & Young survey, only 25% of consumers cite “brand loyalty” as the deciding factor when making a purchasing decision.

But here’s the catch, and what many consumer analysts are missing: brand loyalty still influences purchases in more subtle ways. Your loyalty to a brand is composed of familiarity, associations, and experiences, all of which influence purchasing decisions – even when you think they don’t.

Consumer marketers often cite brands like Harley Davidson or Coca-Cola as brands who leverage sub-conscious loyalty – you might not think, “I’m a Coca-Cola person, through and through,” but you might sub-consciously associate Coca-Cola with your childhood, or the summertime, or their “Small World Machine” campaign. And because of that association, you choose to drink Coca-Cola vs. a competitor.

So even though we think our purchases are all about price and function, that changes when a product is associated with a powerful brand. Here’s how brand loyalty can tip the scales in your favor.

How to Give Your Brand the Advantage

Assuming you have competitors, your potential customers will probably approach your product in the same way I approached Fitbit – they’ll read reviews, ask their friends, and view you and your competitors’ products side-by-side. Thanks to the changing face of customer loyalty, you can’t even count on existing customers to make another purchase. So if your organization isn’t one of the Harley Davidsons or Coca-Colas of the world, how can you create marketing that has an impact at the final hour?

Stand Up Against Something

Mac versus PC. Coca-Cola versus Pepsi. Yankees versus Red Sox. Maybe you aren’t ready to go head-to-head with a competitor, or maybe it’s not in your company’s DNA to publicly pick a fight. Not to worry! As Gregory Ciotti recently wrote on the Help Scout blog, “You don’t have to make an enemy of a brand, but rather with an idea or a belief.”

At Marketo, we don’t pick fights with our competitors, but we do pick fights with the problems our customer base of marketers face every day. Batch and blast email? We’re against it. Organizations that won’t give marketers a seat at the revenue table? We help marketers prove that they’re revenue-generators, not cost centers. Confusing financial processes? We’ve got you covered.

Regardless of what you’re standing up against, making an “enemy” gives your potential customers an emotional motivation to side with your product (aka loyalty), even when your product seems comparable to another.

Focus on Content

This is, hands down, the best way to engage your audience and gain their trust. As we already know, consumers trust Don Draper about as far as they can throw him – recent stats from Forrester indicate that only 10% of adult US internet users trust online advertisements, and 95% of millennials told Social Chorus that they consider their friends to be the most trusted source of information about products.

This means that expertise about your product, in and of itself, doesn’t create brand loyalty. Did I look at the Fitbit website even once while I searched for my perfect device? Frankly, I don’t even know if Fitbit has a website. If I want information about a product, I’ll go to a third-party source – especially in the initial stages of my research.

That’s where content marketing comes in. Use your blog, website, and social media profiles to share knowledge that 1) is useful to your specific target market, and 2) isn’t directly tied to your paycheck. Become the go-to source of free information within your industry, whether it’s running shoes or marketing automation. If your brand becomes associated with expertise and helpfulness, those associations will pay off in the final hour.

Practice Lifecycle Marketing

Brand loyalty may be changing, but retention is still a crucial part of your marketing/advertising game. You can expect your customers to shop around after a bad experience with your brand, but don’t underestimate the power of product familiarity. For example, I’ve always been a Mac person – not because I’m certain that Macs are better than PCs, but because I’m used to them. This makes other products seem risky – what if I don’t like them as much? Where’s the “on” button? If Apple made a competing Fitbit product, my decision would’ve been easy.

Lifecycle marketing builds brand loyalty by continuing to market to customers after they buy. We’re always trying to gauge interest in our products, but what could be a bigger indicator than an actual purchase? Of course, it’s essential to adjust your marketing accordingly – nobody wants to be offered a product they’ve already bought. Using personalization tools, you can offer current customers complementary products, based on their previous purchases or website engagement.

Consumer marketers and B2B marketers alike can also capitalize on past purchases with loyalty programs, discounts, access to online communities, and more. Like content marketing, building a community around your products can tip the scales when other factors appear equal.

Marketers, what do you think? Will brand loyalty continue to influence purchase decisions, or is the future of commerce all about features and price? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.