Marketers love patterns. But repetition is not always the most reliable metric for brand loyalty. What makes your brand attractive?
The push to gather consumer insights quickly leads many to that hunt for recurrence. If we have people continuing to buy from us, the argument goes, they must be loyal. Not necessarily. Consumers may choose to buy a brand for reasons that have nothing to do with affinity. They may buy because of price. They may buy because of time. They may buy because of features. And none of these factors is a marker for unerring commitment because each of them can be superseded by a competitor, and that shift can prompt an immediate change in preference. What looks like brand loyalty in the numbers can actually be brand convenience in behaviours.
Is any consumer actually brand loyal?
Some will argue of course that brand loyalty doesn’t exist; that it is a myth created by marketers basically to give them something to chase. As Philip Graves puts it, “Describing someone’s repeated use of a brand as ‘loyal’ is a projection of emotions that simply aren’t being experienced.” Steve Kesselman goes further, suggesting that marketers shouldn’t even expect to be able to lock consumers into a single relationship. On the contrary, brands should look to be part of a choice set. “People seek variety, exploration and discovery, yet we define loyalty as a monogamous customer-brand relationship.”
Some claim that we confuse the motives of consumers not because of what they do but because of what we would like to think they do. We can’t tell whether we have customers or passengers. According to Help Scout, while brands believe that customers want to have relationships with them, the reality is that 77 percent don’t. And while many believe that an increase in interactions is always the answer, customers quickly suffer from overload.
So if brand convenience and brand loyalty both play out as repeat transactions, how are they different? I think it’s because they get there from very different consumer mindsets. This might suggest they represent responses to different value equations.
Brand loyalty is about access, sharing, joy, maybe even devotion (in the case of sports or tech brands for example). Brand platforms that inspire loyalty are built around ideas that people find intrinsically attractive and that they want to deliberately interact with. To stay competitive, such brands must focus on creating and maintaining customer value. That’s not easy.
Brand convenience is about speed, predictability and ease.
Most consumers buy convenience brands to achieve something quickly and well. That doesn’t necessarily make those consumers loyal. In fact, in some cases, it may talk more to the absence of viable options than an irrational decision to stay with a brand because it just feels ‘right’. That said, I don’t believe enough brands, especially in the retail space, pack enough convenience into what they’re about to make them noticeably competitive. They’re too focused on the ease of the transaction at the expense of the emotional payback.
The value of a convenience brand doesn’t necessarily lie in what consumers get directly, but rather in what buyers don’t have to keep doing or what they get to do with the time they would otherwise have spent inconveniently.
When you think about the behaviours you want from your customers, what are you looking to lock in – a philosophy or a daily habit? Do you want your brand to be one people share or one they reach for without thinking twice?
Note: A version of this post has been published elsewhere under the title Brand Loyalty vs Brand Convenience.