As I was surfing through the Reddit conversations, I came across this thread which sounded rather frustrating. It surely is a valid question — Why the hell does brand loyalty exist? | Are people really so dumb to think that It’s not all just a marketing scheme?
Apple is a worldwide famous brand known for the passion its customers have towards it. Call them die-hard fans, dumb, intensely passionate, whatever it is because damn, they sound hooked.
I find the passion that people have towards Apple amusing and inspiring rather than frustrating and bothersome maybe because I come from a Business and Marketing background of study and I understand the technicalities and reasoning behind it. This is why I think it is important for everyone to understand what brand loyalty truly is, why consumers are loyal to some brands, and learn about the different strategies that, if applied well, could increase brand loyalty.
As a business major concentrating in marketing, I have been learning about the cases of different companies that succeeded and failed in growing their brand. Learning about these makes me want to appreciate and cherish those tactics. I am writing to everyone who finds it hard to understand why fans line up outside Apple stores. I am writing to everyone who wants to understand how brand loyalty is developed and wants to learn about a few strategies to create and grow brand loyalty. A part of my reason to write about this topic other than sharing my thoughts and knowledge is that I want the people who don’t know much about the concept of brand loyalty and passion to understand and appreciate the ways a few successful brands have achieved it.
The thread on Reddit also followed a conversation where a user announced that there are two kinds of “brand loyalty”. The user said “There’s the one for status, where individuals will buy a product because they believe it makes them look affluent, or wealthy, etc. There’s then the other brand loyalty, “I know that company X makes a good and reliable product, thus when my current product eventually needs replacing, I will go back to them”.”
Unfortunately, none of these two account for brand “loyalty”. Products that make the buyer look more affluent can be bought by many luxury brands as well. One does not have to be “loyal” to that brand just because it makes the buyer look good. Loyalty is much more than that and much more than the description of the second kind of brand loyalty. If you are loyal to a brand, you don’t see its competitor as the opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. It is the act of following only one brand religiously as your go-to brand for a particular product or service or everything. Brand loyalty is the establishment of an emotional connection that turns customers into passionate fans.
A lot of you could have at least 1–2 brands that you are loyal to. Brands that you talk about to your friends, brands that you pick everytime, brands that you follow and choose as your first preference. Some examples of such brands are Starbucks Vs Dunkin Donuts, Nike Vs Adidas, Mac Vs PC, Coke Vs Pepsi, Dominos Vs Pizza Hut, and Harley Davidson Vs literally any other motorcycle — for some people. You might wonder — WHY? A part of the answer is social identification, which is our sense of belongingness to a group. Some brands become a part of our identity or at least our aspired identity.
To make this easier, I am sharing a personal example of my best friend Aan Shah, who is madly passionate about Apple and was the first person in line for the launch of Apple’s iPhone 11 in New York City.
Aan camped outside the store for 2 days just to be the first person to walk in the store and buy the overly expensive product. This is called true brand loyalty. He also got featured in the news with a picture that he took with Tim Cook. Just like him, there is an army of Apple fans that would promote it and would buy absolutely everything that they make, no matter what the cost. This would come out as something absolutely irrational to do for someone who is not an Apple fan because of the following reasons:
- These Apple fans are not waiting in line for hours for a necessity
- Most of these fans probably have the last version of the iPhone which isn’t all that different from the new one
- They could just wait a couple of days and walk into the store and buy the new iPhone without waiting
- They could also order the iPhone online and get it shipped to their home — how convenient!
When I asked my best friend Aan about the possible reason behind it, he said it was for the experience. “It is a beautiful experience to see the brand you love launch its new product and have everyone at the store cheer and clap for you as you are the first person to buy and experience the innovation”, he said. With almost tears in my eyes, I understood where he was standing. If not Apple, but there must be at least one other brand all of us would do this for and have no regrets.
There are other reasonable factors along with social identification that constitute brand loyalty. Fans love products made by the brand, what the brand stands for, and its services so much that they become passionate about it. These brands obviously need to have a great product! Ever seen someone passionate about a brand with bad products? — highly unlikely. Passion brands keep their branding consistent, evolve and innovate the products from time to time, make their consumers feel good about buying their products and about themselves. Apple has successfully built such a powerful brand which is so compelling that people want to socially identify with it, attach themselves to the brand and the things the brand stands for — sophisticated design, good taste, and a minimalistic aesthetic.
You might wonder, why don’t Samsung fans stand outside the store for hours? How can a company achieve loyalty and passion from its consumers? why don’t all the brands have such a strong fan base? To start simple — Because it is difficult to achieve a loyalty base!
It is not easy to influence consumers into following your brand, encouraging word of mouth, making them passionate and loyal. A lot of brands struggle while a few, with the help of the right strategies, succeed. Companies need to have a deep understanding of their customers’ choices, priorities, buying behavior, and what they care about.
Every brand desires to be a passion brand for its consumers simply because this passion and loyalty directly translate into the company’s growth in sales, revenue, profits, awareness, market share, and the list goes on. The image shows that 60% of customers will tell friends and family about a brand they’re loyal to. This increases word of mouth for the brand and achieves free advertising. 52.3% of customers will join a loyalty or VIP program if they are loyal to the brand. Lastly, 39.4% of customers will spend more on a product even if there are cheaper options available if they are loyal to that brand. Apple is a 45-year-old company, and it took them a lot to finally establish this passionate fan base. Nevertheless, if you work in the marketing profession, want to grow your brand’s loyal base, are studying marketing, or are just simply interested in this topic, the following are a few strategies you could learn and implement:
- Make an incredible product
This might come out as absurd to some of you, but no bad product can achieve loyalty. Sometimes even if the product is average, let’s say for example Red Bull, the brand can be overpowering and the reason behind the company’s success.
- Customer service is everything
Brands like Zappos have gained terrific loyalty from its customers mainly because of its customer service. Brands communicate directly with their customers via customer service, hence making it such an important factor. Creating a deep and lasting connection with the customers and forming a relationship really goes a long way.
- Stand for something
It is important for companies to figure out who they are, what their brand identity is, why they are in business, have a sense of identity and its mission.
- Know your target market and don’t try to please everyone
Admitting that your products/ services are not for everyone is a big move, which could be daunting at the start but once this is established, the ones you are targeting will have your 100% attention.
- Define your brand personality and stick to it
One tip that can help you define your brand’s personality is by thinking of it as a human being. These traits should be followed in all the brand’s communication. This is important because the brand is more than logo, name, colors you use, or slogans.
- Retain your customers
Research suggests that the cost of acquiring a new customer is 7 times higher than the cost of retaining an already existing customer. These retained customers are more likely to turn into loyal customers of your brand. You could retain them by offering customer rewards, programs, free offers, coupons, sales, rebates, and other incentives — if your brand architecture allows it
- Build a strong and specific brand architecture
Having a specific and strong brand architecture sets a foundation for all your future branding actions in order to stay aligned with your final goal. The brand architecture consists of all the things you want the brand to stand for and the way you want things to be done in your company. It should be inclusive of all emotions around which you want the brand to be established and want the consumers to perceive. It is also advisable to take a look at your brand architecture from time to time to not dwell away from your goal.
- Communication is the key
In today’s world, customers have become smarter, more aware, and informed than they used to. They have become opinionated and are willing to share their thoughts openly. Because of the lifestyle and social life changes that are brought mainly by the advanced technologies that have been introduced, along with the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers have shifted to do everything online. Social media has become a big part of everyone’s life. You need to be able to use social media to your brand’s power in order to be able to talk with your consumers. Communicating with them, forming a strong relationship with them will ultimately lead to loyalty for your brand. At the same time, it is super important for your brand to be honest and transparent in everything it does, or the same social media platforms could get really ugly for you.
- Last but not least — give your consumers the sense of belonging and the reason to believe by being consistent with your communication and being proactive with your actions and decisions.
Brand loyalty is a beautiful and inspiring thing when achieved successfully. I would also call it a win-win for the loyal customers as well as the passion brands. The brands earn by the increase in growth and loyal customers develop a sense of identification and belongingness. I hope that we can all cherish and appreciate the brands’ efforts in building a loyalty base. I also hope you look out for other strategies different brands that you notice are following and the crazy things that the passionate customers are doing for the brand! Share with me in the comments :)