For a little while, the folks at BrandPerspectives.com had a great little blog on Branding. They haven’t posted to it in a very long time, but some of the stuff they did post there is still up and well worth a look, so go check it out.
One of their last topics dealt with Developing a Culture of Brand Performance Accountability (which… was actually the title of their post. Ahem.)
Here’s the meat of the post:
“Just as with financial performance, measurement is critical to
improvement for brand initiatives. Creating a culture of measurement-driven
brand assessments will help executives better understand how to derive the
greatest return from their investments. (…)
Simple steps based on increasing your understanding of your
customers, and their interactions with your brand, can be implemented through
For instance, the ability to quantify gaps in organizational alignment
behind your brand, or discontinuity in the customer experience (including
metrics such as loyalty, drivers of satisfaction, service levels, etc.) by
segment, region or product, can – and do – have profound impact at the executive
There you have it. Too few companies focus on assessing where their brands stand… And it’s obvious which companies do it, and which companies don’t. For the first batch, think Starbucks, Whole Foods, Target, Apple and Virgin, for starters. In the other batch… well… throw-in the companies you’ve never heard of.
There is, however, one thing that struck me about the post. In its original version, it mentions (customer) loyalty twice. Hmmm… Loyalty… That tricky little word.
There seem to be two schools of thought in regards to customer loyalty, these days: The first believes in it. The second thinks it’s dead. Both sides have very smart and insightful things to say on the subject. But… who’s right?
Is there such a thing as brand loyalty anymore?
The answer is yes. Absolutely. Think sports teams. Think Ford vs. Chevy. Think Playstation vs. X-Box. Think Apple vs. Microsoft.
Think dog people vs. cat people.
Think Republicans vs. Democrats.
Yeah, brand loyalty is alive and well. But unless you have two superbrands battling it out and inviting you to take sides, forget it. There’s no such thing. It doesn’t exist.
Without the element of archetypal supercompetition, without a corporate nemesis, brand loyalty is simply irrelevant.
Here’s a simple example: Most people love Google… Most of the searches that lead people to this blog come from Google. But because Google doesn’t have an arch-nemesis, no one is driven to be loyal to it. People simply use it. Loyalty isn’t an issue.
What you might mistake for brand loyalty is a lot more likely to be about customers’ habits, penchant for convenience, and comfort.
Remember that customers are people. People like patterns.
Once customers find something they like, something they can incorporate in their routine, that’s exactly what they do. Even I, Mr. Agent Of Change, Mr. Try Something New, shop at the same stores regularly. I read the same blogs. Return to the same TV shows every week. Hang out with the same friends. I even like to get gas from the same places.
You get the drift.
We’re humans. Ergo, we are creatures of habit.
Here’s how it works: You have your routine. One day, your routine gets disturbed. You alter it and try something new. (The store was out of your usual brand of olive oil and this forces you to buy another brand. Your favorite airline doesn’t have any flights available, so you have to book with another one.)
Outcome A: You like the new brand better and adopt it.
Outcome B: You don’t like the new brand better and return to your usual one next time around.
In other words, it takes a significant event for us to CHANGE our habits.
It takes a catalyst.
That catalyst could be a glowing recommendation from someone we trust. It could be a really cool ad. It could be the result of an unexpected shortage in the original product. It could be an accidental discovery. It could be the influence of a cultural phenomenon.
Check out the wheel of brand interaction. What it shows is a complex but repetitive pattern of purchasing behavior. The slinky-like spiral is a brand exposure/interaction pattern we go through either daily or weekly. Some brands are closer to our comfort zone (and lifestyle) than others. (Some brands, we have only superficial contact with, while others we have regular contact with.)
Occasionally, a catalyst will force one of the tentacles of slinky-like spiral pattern to either shift, or reach out a little further than normal.
Marketers spend most of their time focusing on designing some of these catalysts: Think POP displays. Advertising. Package design. PR. Promotions. Coupons. “Branding”. “Co-branding”. Licensing. Sponsorships. Establishing a presence at trade shows and special events… or just across the street from your office. Sampling. Buzz marketing. Giveaways. Swag. New product features. New product styling. New technology. Special edition releases. You get the idea.
It’s kind of a three-tiered cycle:
Phase 1: Building the brand’s contextual foundation – The idea is that exposure to brands will make us more likely to incorporate them into our routine. Familiarity, after all, breeds trust and comfort. (As in “oh yeah, I’ve never tried it, but I know that brand.”)
Phase 2: Triggering the change in purchasing habits – Give people a reason to try your product, and make it easy to do so. (Note: Some companies purposely bypass Phase 1 and focus their energy on impulse buyers.)
Phase 3: Cross your fingers and hope the product is as good as you claim it is. You only get once chance to make a good impression. The best marketing in the world won’t save you if your product isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Read ground zero brand-building to know what I mean.
People buy what they know, like and trust. They also tend to crave what they think will make their lives better. (That could be a red BMW convertible or a chrome-plated iPod or a new pair of Rudy Project sunglasses.) More often than not, purchasing habits are based on perceptions, expectations and experience, not loyalty.
Put simply, we tend to buy what we know only until we find something we like better. Brand loyalty is really brand comfort.
So the question you have to ask yourself is this: What are you doing to make your customers not want to consider switching over to other brands?
(Or if you’re trying to attract new customers, what are you doing to make your competitors’ customers want to consider switching to you?)
Does your brand evoke the same level of excitement and customer comfort as Target, Starbucks, Apple, Whole Foods and Virgin?
If not, why not?