28 Jan 2015

6 routes to brand loyalty

Building loyalty with customers is one of the best long-term investments that any business can make.

Jim Prior, Global CEO

Brand loyalty is an outcome, not a conscious consideration that people make when presented with a choice. It is a useful term to describe patterns in purchasing behaviours or attitudes in retrospect, but I would argue that in shaping and executing a strategy for a brand, loyalty is a superfluous word; any consideration around building brand loyalty is simply a conversation around building a successful brand. Strong brands engender loyalty. It’s illogical to consider it the other way round. So, before organisations get deeply into downstream detail, it is wise for them to revisit the core principles of how to build a strong brand. And there are six things they should consider:



Write a narrative

Brand identities, communications and experiences are the trigger for emotional responses in the brain but the emotions themselves are connected to deeper stories and rewards. For any form of brand activation to work effectively, the brand has to first determine what its story is. I often define a brand as the interface between an organisation and its audiences, so when defining a brand narrative it’s important to transcend the purely rational attributes of the product and tap into a human need. For example, Coca-Cola sells shared happiness; Rolex sells an instrument that helps you survive hundreds of metres beneath the sea; IBM is building a smarter planet. These ideas are more than just vague promises; they form the basis of all forms of expression of the brand – its narrative – and give focus, direction and a consistency of understanding. If you want people to be loyal to your brand, you need to give them this kind of emotional reward.



Design a lighthouse identity

Identity is the key that unlocks the narrative that we have described above and its loyalty needs a powerful identity that is consistently recognisable but also consistently inspiring. The human brain has evolved to respond to distinctive colours and forms, using them as visual shortcuts to immediate recognition and recall. And beyond the deep neurological triggers, brand identities are also a key device that allows the proposition to be understood and engaged with. Distinctiveness and connection to the brand narrative are key here: the bite in the Apple logo tells a story of forbidden fruit; Nike delivers the attitude of winners not just through the swoosh, but through its whole approach to imagery and typography, too. A brand’s personality is also an important element of its identity and describes the way a brand speaks, thinks, acts, and reacts. It personifies the brand and gives a human element to the business. But be warned, bland brand identities will be instinctively ignored and the triggers of loyalty will go unfired.



Create a holistic experience

Every brand touchpoint is an opportunity to deliver reward and build loyalty. The less distinctive the products and services, the more important the wider brand experience becomes. Every brand experience you create is an opportunity to find the differentiation that will build loyal behaviour. Four Seasons hotels share many of the same physical characteristics as others but their approach to guest services is what sets them apart – the simple act of walking around the counter to hand room keys to guests rather than passing them across a desk has a transformational effect. But brand experiences need to be controlled; they must be consistent with the brand’s core narrative or they risk undermining loyalty instead. Establishing a central brand management function that ensures consistency of intent and delivery of the brand is vitally important here. Strong brands manage their experiences with rigorous attention to detail, checking that every touchpoint and loyalty is enhanced through this approach.



Keep the faith

Loyalty is built not just through consistency across touch points but also over time. The human brain looks for repetitive patterns of behaviour that it can trust, and brands that switch direction, changing or altering their communications or experiences too often, can struggle to keep their loyal followers engaged.

The rise of Apple to become the biggest technology company in the world – and one of the world’s favourite brands – is the result of many years of continuous innovation, not any one single event. Of course, brands need to evolve in response to changing market and consumer circumstances, but staying true to the narrative is important here. It’s also worth noting that for brands that have large organisations behind them, the value of long-term consistency among staff is also very high – clearly focused and aligned internal behaviours are critical to the delivery of a strong brand. Chopping and changing messages – for example, advertising concepts and tag lines – might sometimes appear to offer short-term benefits, but this can have a profound negative effect in the long term.



Transparency and trust

The most influential factor for any customer willing to make a commitment to your brand is trust. Establishing trust between you and your customer is essential to building brand loyalty, and can only help to spread the word about your organisation or product. Without trust, there is no relationship of any value. With trust, customers are more willing to come on a journey with you, and invest their time and money with you.

Naturally people spread the word about their great relationships, whether they’re familial or social. It is exactly the same for brands: people want to tell their peers about the brilliant things in their lives and brands are a part of that mix. Richard Branson generates strong customer loyalty. Even though some of his ventures have failed, the public believe that he cares for the Virgin customer and have absolute trust in him putting the customer first. To establish trust, brands must show they are worthy of it by inviting honest criticism, owning up to mistakes, being transparent about processes, ethics and values, and so on. If brands can follow a few simple steps to gaining consumers’ trust then the rewards are long-term relationships, a great brand reputation and healthy profits.



Have fun

Loyalty is fundamentally a human concept. And building great brands needs much humanity too. No matter how large the organisation or complex the brand or product, it’s important to ensure that the experience of your brand is something that people will enjoy. If you can put a smile on their faces, or in their minds, people will engage more deeply with you. You can be smart, witty, humorous, or irreverent and controversial in how you do this. Google’s daily doodles, Paddy Power’s provocative humour, or Red Bull’s commitment to exploring the limits of human endeavour are all great examples of how this can be achieved.

Humorous angles can also be used on social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. A good joke can provide the customer with an opportunity to connect with the brand, and at the same time gives the brand an opportunity to stand out. Look at Oreo, which became a social media star for poking fun at the power outage that delayed one of the 2013 Super Bowl games for 35 minutes. Even now, it consistently uses its Twitter feed to push out creative, amusing, original content that engages its customers.

The power of humour is proved again and again by unintentionally funny advertising, a great example being Thorne Travel, whose preposterous ad recently became a viral sensation. In terms of developing loyalty, as long as your users can connect with the humour provided, it can help develop the customer’s relationship with you as a brand. Humour can also be an effective method for lightly teasing your competitors, which not only reveals certain factors about your competition that a brand might normally struggle to divulge, but it can also start up a conversation between you both regarding the unique selling points of each brand.

Building loyalty with its customers is one of the best long-term investments that any business can make. Listen to what your customers have to say and what they are telling you; give them reasons to stay by enhancing the customer experience as notonthehighstreet does by offering alternative gift suggestions while browsing. Work to your strengths and deliver on your brand promise. Care about your customers and they just might care about you. And that is key to cultivating brand loyalty.


This article first appeared in the January issue of Admap