16 October 2007

That elusive thing called loyalty

I have more faith in dogs than I have in human beings. Dogs offer their love and loyalty unwaveringly, and unconditionally… well, perhaps, for some food and a place to sleep. Humans are more demanding. They simply want more and more. With such precepts driving human behaviour, how can brand marketers ever expect loyalty from their consumers?

The task of garnering consumer loyalty makes most brand marketers shudder. Just when they think they’ve succeeded in getting consumers to stay loyal to their brand, consumers wander off, lusting after a competitive brand. Infidelity is quite common between consumers and brands; forcing many marketers to believe loyalty is either a myth or, at least, an elusive target.

What drives the consumers away? No one knows for sure. It could be a change in the product formulation, the packaging, or the advertising. It could be a price increase, or an attractive promotion by another brand. It could be the overall shopping experience, or the insensitivity of the sales staff. It could be the availability of a technologically superior product, or the novelty of a new brand entering the marketplace.

When my clients complain to me about a drop in consumer loyalty, I bowl them a googly. I ask them: should consumers be loyal to the brand or should the brand be loyal to its consumers? You see, because we are here to sell our brand, we become a little self-centred and myopic in our selling. The brand means everything to us.

We expect consumers to stay loyal to our brand, without finding out ways to make the brand more meaningful to consumers over the long run. Our best efforts end up in offering discounts and points to consumers, expecting consumers to stay loyal against cash pay-offs. The costs of such pay-offs are heavy, cutting into business profits. In such business models, as profits dwindle, so do cash pay-offs to consumers, eroding consumer loyalty.

The thing to remember is, loyalty is not a one-time execution of a marketing plan. It is life-long – and deserves such commitment from the brand marketers. Keeping consumers loyal over the years is the real big challenge. Being sensitive to consumer needs and wants over the years, and maintaining brand salience in accordance with changing consumer lifestyles against competitive forces, hold the key to consumer loyalty.

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