There are many schools of thought about what creates and sustains brand loyalty (that is, a consumer’s preference for one particular brand over another in the same market space). These range from practical matters of convenience to complex and interwoven psychological factors. In the age of social media, we often hear that “engagement” in an ongoing dialogue with a brand is what creates loyalty. Other marketers swear by the psychology of color in creating consumer preferences.
The reality is much more nuanced than either of these approaches indicate, of course. The deeper drivers of connection with a brand are more subtle than memorable packaging, a brilliant logo, or a witty Twitter mascot. New and growing brands that leverage these underlying factors to connect with customers can elevate their position in consumer consciousness and reap the rewards of brand loyalty and evangelism.
Brand Loyalty is an Emotional Experience
Brand loyalty requires differentiation from the competition. If there’s no difference between your brand and another, what is there to be loyal to? Many products in the market successfully achieve the same results, so what is it that makes them distinct? Often, it is the emotional experience a brand provides.
Writing in Entrepreneur, Larry Alton identifies five emotions that create and sustain brand loyalty. Surprise, he says, is a key differentiator – by going above and beyond a customer’s expectations (whether it’s a bonus offer, an additional feature, or a handwritten note), your brand can cement itself in their memory as providing an exceptional experience. Similarly, the emotional experience of gratitude creates long-lasting positive connotations with your brand, so be sure to give them something to be thankful for.
Relief is another emotion Alton connects with brand loyalty. Products that provide a solution to real, impactful problems in consumer’s lives trigger a strong sense of relief, making themselves both memorable and indispensable. One of the most powerful emotions is belonging, which is at the root of social media “engagement” strategies. When your brand builds a community or shared identity for consumers to belong to, they are likely to return again and again.
Shared Values Create a Lasting Connection
In addition to activating the emotional component of brand loyalty, more and more companies are reaching out to subsets of consumers by broadcasting their values and ideals. In a recent article for HelpScout, Gregory Ciotti makes a compelling case for connecting with consumers through communicating shared values.
I’ve previously written about the rise in socially-conscious brands (think TOMS Shoes or Warby Parker) and how they attract a dedicated and passionate following by engaging their customer’s desire to do good in the world. Ciotti argues, “Communicating your brand’s higher purpose outside of making money is the way to create a genuine connection with loyal customers… it’s the one consistent method of creating brand loyalty that truly sticks. ”
If you’re looking to create long-lasting goodwill and loyalty towards your brand, consider how you can make a difference in your community and the world. Be transparent about your efforts to be socially responsible and engaged in creating more than just profits. Consumers who appreciate your efforts will reward you by becoming loyal customers.
Consistency is the Key
This may be the single most important aspect of earning and keeping your customer’s trust. While there are many theories as to how and why we develop loyalty to certain brands, it is widely agreed that familiarity and comfort are major underlying factors. In fact, familiarity is one of Larry Alton’s emotions that increase consumer loyalty.
Why familiarity? Customers depend on your brand to provide a consistent experience in both functionality and design. They want to know that each time they make a purchase, they can count on the same quality and support they have experienced before. Otherwise, why not make a different choice every time?
This is why major re-branding or designing efforts often backfire. Consumers appreciate familiarity and consistency, and anything that makes them think twice gives them the opportunity to make a different choice. Successful rebranding efforts must preserve the initial appeal, remain visually consistent, and include consumers in the process.
Loyalty and Evangelism
Why worry about creating consumers who are loyal to your brand? Aside from the obvious repeat purchases, loyal customers provide an even greater value: brand evangelism. Word of mouth is powerful marketing, and an enthusiastic customer base is an incredibly effective marketing machine. Loyal customers will advocate for your brand in a personal, passionate, and credible way.
Whether you’re an established brand looking to expand your reach or a newcomer hoping to create a strong impression, remember to engage customer’s emotions, communicate your shared values, and keep your message consistent.