Brand Loyalty Isn't Dead, It's Upped It's Game

Brand loyalty was once king in the consumer world. Companies spent endless amounts of money to appeal to the average consumer, and it worked, as every consumer had at least one brand they would pay far more money for over a similar competitor.

Why would consumers part with more money than they had to, in light of alternatives, and what exactly is brand loyalty?

What is it?

Brand loyalty is all about the image. Both the image given to the product and the image perceived to be given to the consumer smart enough to buy that product. It’s all about making the consumer feel a certain way about themselves when using it.

Consumers often buy a product because it makes them feel one of these 5 ways:

  • Hip
  • Sexy
  • Rich
  • Smart
  • Beautiful

The goal of a brand was to make you feel *insert adjective* if you bought this product. If you bought this product you’d be the envy of the neighborhood! The coolest kid in town!

Brand Loyalty Is Not Dead

Modernists will argue that brand loyalty today is dead. While they are correct in pointing out that with the advance in technology and manufacturing processes, products have become close in price and almost undecernible in the actual product and quality, they could not be farther from the truth.

Brand loyalty is alive and thriving today – it just isn’t the same as the brand loyalty of yesteryear.

The Consumers of Today

It’s not enough anymore to have a cool logo design and a cool product. These days consumers expect more – in design, quality and community. With the advent of the web, community becomes the main offering that sets a brand apart.

A brand’s ultimate goal should be in creating a culture, or community. For example, take Apple. Apple’s popularity is no longer due to the products themselves – although their beautiful design, ease of use, and reliability was what created the popularity in the first place – instead it’s now due to the perceived culture of Apple.

Take a look at their followers. Often young, creative and cutting edge, why dint these people buy a cheaper mp3 that probably does the same things as the iPod? Because *insert your favorite celebrity*, your friends, your favorite movie characters all have an iPod, not a Zune or a knockoff. Because you won’t be seen as cool or hip. Because the packages aren’t as shiny.

No One Is Immune

While you’re probably thinking to yourself that this “culture” buying of products is vain and you’d never fall for it, I’d bet my iPod you’re wrong. Think about everything you buy, do you just randomly throw products from the shelves into your cart?

While certain products, like groceries, are dying out in major brand loyalty wars (except specialty food products) and you may buy your clothes based on looks, not brand, I bet you love frequently visiting one store only for those jeans, or only buying a Honda, or only playing the PS3. Brand loyalty comes in many different forms.

The Community

The community, or culture, around the brand is now what’s driving it. While it’s important to have that pretty logo, website and package design, it’s no longer enough to grab the average consumer’s attention after being subjected to hundreds, if not thousands, of advertisements a day.

Community is interaction with the consumer. Be it a blog, sponsered conventions or an active Twitter account, engaging your consumers to connect with both the brand and other fellow consumers is what sets one company above another.

Some of my favorite examples would be:

  • Home Depot’s free workshop classes
  • SmartyPig’s blog and question based contests and active Facebook & Twitter questions to consumers
  • Apple developer conferences, event giveaways in stores and active support forums
  • Honda’s huge community of tuners, green product lovers, accessories and support
  • Showtime’s user wiki for show info, as well as costumes and accessories based off the set. Show-based games and large user-driven site community
  • Starbucks’ “My Starbucks Idea”  site where users contribute ideas and Starbucks actually implements them

All these brands have beautiful branding across the board from logos to websites to packages. But what makes them stand out is their exclusive communities.

How Do I Use This?

When starting clients out, don’t just sell them a logo. Sell them a brand. Offer to help them build a community that consumers can flock to and participate in. People naturally love being accepted in social groups, which brands can certainly be one. Create campaigns with your clients using active blogs and user feedback areas. Grassroots marketing can also be great for creating communities. Some ideas to get the client’s consumer involved:

  • Passing out free samples (not junk) and giving consumers extra to pass on to friends
  • Holding conferences with guest speakers.
  • An active feedback section on the site
  • A blog personally written by the CEO.
  • Active participation and questions on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Sponsoring fun contests
  • Sponsoring events where the consumers can get together in person.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts on brand loyalty? Has it become harder to achieve? What are some other examples of brands with great consumer loyalty?