What kind of brand loyalty do you believe in?
Do you still cling to the devotion of a Harley-Davidson tattoo or the passion of the first in line at an iPhone launch?
Or do you now camp out with the Evidencers and their protests that it was all only ever a figment of our imagination, a by-product of penetration growth?
I always thought a loyalist was a regular buyer.
They don’t necessarily buy your brand every time. That’s what Diageo used to call an Adorer. The romantic view that someone would march straight out of a bar if their particular brand of drink wasn’t on display.
But they buy it regularly enough, once a whatever-stands-for-regular in a category. Once a day if it’s a Skinny Latte, once a week if it’s a tin of Beanz, once a month if it’s toothpaste, once every couple of months if it’s hair colour, once a year if it’s car insurance, once in a blue moon if it’s a new car.
Certainly more often than they buy a competitive brand. It’s hard to see someone as a loyalist if they buy two similar brands with the same frequency.
Loyalty, of course, comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
It can be habit, inertia even.
It can be efficiency. A minimising of the load.
It can be smart. Knowing something that buyers of other brands don’t.
It can be a sense of keeping something alive, a tie that binds.
It can be swimming against the tide, showing the world your continuing independence from it.
It can be doing what others do. The unquestioned choice.
Or the easy one. Get it on Amazon, I can hear the drone approaching already.
It can even be an adventure. The best kind of exploring for most of us is in the safe hands of an experienced guide.
Ironically, what loyalty isn’t is a loyalty scheme.
Or running year-round promotions. Have you seen the prices at Pizza Express when you can’t use a 25% off voucher?
Or engagement through constant content. A cloud of words floating by on the breeze.
Or influencers claiming they buy your brand, cross their hearts and hope to die.
That’s all bribes and bullying.
If you believe brands are fundamentally about trust, then loyalty is trust earned. It did what it promised to do last time so I’ll give it another go.
So what it’s really about is the experience. That’s the core of it. That’s where trust is grown.
Not on the surface. You can’t build loyalty purely through perceptions, whether that’s creating compelling communication or slipping your distinctive assets into people’s pockets. That’s the kind of thinking that gives marketing a bad name.
But the thing to remember, above all else, is trust is hard won but easily lost.
So it may be tempting to look at the data and convince yourself loyalty is yet another flight of marketing fancy.
But without the ambition of loyalty, isn’t a brand just a promise waiting to be broken?