Earning and Keeping Brand Loyalty (Part 1 of 2)

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Having long term, devoted, exclusive customers is hard to achieve, even harder is sustaining their brand loyalty with relentless improvement, says Joanne Z. Tan, global brand strategist, Brand Coach & Branding Expert.

When your customers buy repeatedly and exclusively from you, over the long term, you have earned their brand loyalty based on faith and trust. Earning and keeping your customers long term loyalty is the ultimate testament to your accomplishment, whether you offer products or services.

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What is brand loyalty?  What makes customers loyal to a brand?

We all know what loyalty is in friendship, love, marriage, work, and other relationships among humans, and even with pets.

Brand loyalty, in addition to the functionality of products or services, is similar to relationship loyalty, with qualities like familiarity, attachment, fondness, trust, commitment, shared values, beliefs, and aspirations.

As in human relationships, brand loyalty is not servitude, but based upon free will and mutual trust. Loyalty prevails “in good times and bad,” even when the brand’s stock market value fluctuates, or when it goes through crises.

Brand loyalty should not be the same as a cult mentality or idol worship, which is blindly obeying without questioning.  Brand loyalty has the “welcome to the club” mindset and heartset, similar to sharing passions for sports or hobbies, or an affinity with a society.

There is timeless value in the brand (expressed by products or services) in the eyes of loyal customers, which goes beyond what’s popular and trendy. It is more than a fashion or fad. To stay loyal for the long term, buyers must be proud of the brand value, attributes, personality, benefits, identity, and essence. They must also share its vision, inspiration, and aspiration.

On the other side of this relationship, the brand must sustain its followers’ trust, admiration, and affinity.

What is brand loyalty based on? 

To earn brand loyalty is hard work. But to sustain brand loyalty is harder. It takes relentlessly adhering to brand consistency AND delighting loyal customers with ongoing improvement. The brand must reliably provide value, and convince buyers that it has something extra they cannot get anywhere else.  You have to keep doing the work.

Brand loyalty is a sacred trust.  Losing a loyal client is akin to letting down your loved ones in personal relationships. It is a disappointing, even devastating experience.

Belief in the brand is the foundation of brand loyalty. In a competitive world with too many choices, being loyal to one brand alleviates buyers’ decision-making fatigue.

More than functional value, prestige associated with a brand-name also plays a part in brand loyalty.  Using the “best” brands, as perceived by buyers and the society, makes people feel better about themselves, or give a sense of belonging.  This leads to building a long term relationship of trust and confidence between the brand and its customers.

Psychologically and socially, the perceived status, even vanity, associated with being identified with a brand can sometimes outweigh the practicality or functionality of a product or service. People are willing to pay a premium for a brand not solely because the quality is superior, but because the brand elevates the buyers’ self-esteem.

Many buyers associate part of their personal identities with a brand. For instance, driving a Rolls Royce, or a Tesla, or a Ford can be a convenient (albeit not necessarily true) signifier of identity. Culture and society convince us of the status and values assigned to each vehicle. In today’s age of global warming, between a Tesla and a Rolls Royce, not everyone agrees which is a better car, depending on the values each person prioritizes.

A tree-hugging environmentalist (tribal identity) may prefer Tesla or an EV (brand loyalty) to a gas-burning behemoth like a Rolls Royce, but an Elon Musk fan (tribal identity) may love Tesla (brand loyalty) for a different reason. Brand loyalty is related to tribal identity even though it is not exactly the same.

Behind brand identity is a host of deep human desires since time immemorial, for respect, recognition, belonging, well being, enjoyment, status, fame, and power. It is more than merely transactional or practical.

What can you do to create and sustain brand loyalty?  Do “loyalty programs” work? Do discounts or package rates hurt your brand value?

We will discuss these points in Part 2.


© Joanne Z. Tan   All rights reserved.


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