The Psychology of Brand Loyalty: 5 Key Takeaways
Is brand loyalty dead? Nope, not from this contributor's perspective.
In an ideal world, all your customers would be loyal to your brand. Loyalty means a customer is willing to come back to your brand for multiple purchases and experiences, forgoing your competitors' -- even if those competitors are offering lower prices or similar incentives.
Some studies (and opinions) suggest that brand loyalty is a concept that’s dying; for example, 79 percent of the millennials polled in one survey ranked quality as their most important purchasing decision, rather than the name brand involved. In this current "Information Age," where information on thousands of competitor products is instantly available, it’s no wonder that so many people believe brand loyalty is on its way out.
But that's not the final word, apparently, because other evidence suggests that brand loyalty is as strong as it’s ever been: Fully 77 percent of consumers in one survey, for instance, said they return to the same brands over and over again, with 37 percent of them qualifying as “brand loyalists” -- the segment of customers who will stay true to a brand even if offered a superior product from a competitor.
So, if you go with the latter research, what are the psychological factors that might be responsible for this overwhelming manifestation of loyalty?
First, there needs to be some degree of novelty to catch consumer attention. The world is full of different brands similar to yours; therefore, if you want a shot at winning a new customer, you either have to offer a product that’s never been offered before, or make a compelling, persuasive pitch that can potentially attract loyalists from other existing brands.
On top of that, novelty is linked to stronger memories, which, upon repeated customer exposure, can instill familiarity and positive feelings.
Brand loyalty doesn’t depend on novelty to sustain itself, but it is a necessary first ingredient.
Associations and positive reinforcement
Much of human psychology is built around the concept of associations; when we eat something sweet, we experience a release of feel-good chemicalsm like dopamine; that way, we learn to associate sweet foods with a pleasant experience. When we touch a hot stove burner, we associate pain with the stove and subsequently avoid a repeat of our mistake.
So, the marketing lesson from these real-world experiences is simple: Once you’ve captured someone’s attention, the next step to securing his or her loyalty is to ensure your brand is associated with positive feelings.
This goes beyond giving your customers a good experience, mind you: You have to somehow associate that experience with your brand. This could mean adding more overtly branded materials to your physical location, or using slogans and imagery at opportune times during the customer experience (whether that involves serving food or delivering a package) to reinforce the connection to the brand.
All this takes time, of course, but with every positive experience, your customers will become more loyal to you.
Identity and tribalism
Humans are a social species, and we’ve learned to engage with one another by forging an identity, sticking to it as stubbornly as possible and participating in tribalism (sticking close to people like ourselves and vilifying or avoiding people unlike us). This is the main reason politics are so divisive, and a contributing factor to the thrill of sports rivalries.
Tapping into this identity and tribalism, then, can be a good strategy to try, to secure brand loyalty. Apple is a notorious example here: It uses imagery of cool, laid-back, colorful people to showcase its brand, and stuffy, unlikable characters to portray its rivals'. Instilling a sense of community identity (and in this case, elitism) is the key to making your customers feel that they’re a part of your brand.
Once they have that feeling, they’ll become virtually inseparable from you.
The key takeaways
What can you learn from these psychological factors? What can you do to make people more loyal to your brand? Five things:
1. Stand out by being different. You have to start with a notable brand, that you can differentiate from the competition. Without this step, loyalists of other brands will have no reason to switch to yours.
2. Know your target market, and cater to those people. If you want to give more positive experiences and memories to your target market, you need to understand exactly how they think --and what they’re looking for. Find out what that is, and give it to them.
3. Incorporate a series of positive, branded experiences. Always keep your brand present, consistent and top of mind. If customers lose sight of your brand, it won’t matter if they have a good experience -- they won’t remember you.
4. Allow your customers to interact with one other. The best way to build a community is to nurture an organic one. Foster a sense of tribalism by allowing your customers to engage with one another.
5. Make your brand a component of personal identity. Find a way to make customers feel your brand is a part of their personal identity. Once it’s there, this identity factor going to become virtually impossible to get rid of.