Every company hopes to inspire an audience of faithful consumers, advocates, and evangelists. It’s not just repeat customers they’re chasing after—it’s customers whose trust in your brand transcends the transaction. Yes, they buy all your products. But that’s only scratching the surface of their value as brand loyalists.
A major PR scandal breaks out? Brand loyalists will defend you to the death—your personal army of free PR agents. A competitor releases a product that’s objectively better than yours? Brand loyalists keep your sales soaring based on the intangibles of status, identity, and personal values.
Looking to break into a new market, capture a new demographic, launch a new product line, or dominate a new marketing channel? Your brand loyalists are a built-in network of early adopters who will storm social media with positive reviews and word-of-mouth rallying cries.
There’s only one problem. Like the holy grail, brand loyalty is a myth.
Loyalty is an undying allegiance—”for better or worse… till death do us part.”
If that kind of brand fealty was possible, you’d never need to run another ad campaign again. But you do… why? No amount of pandering to your audience will ever secure their loyalty.
Why Brand Loyalty Doesn’t Exist
What about Apple? What about Harley Davidson? What about Coca-Cola? What about Nike, Disney, Sony, or Whole Foods? What about Barack Obama or Donald Trump? Aren’t there brands with zealous cult followings whose fidelity seems unassailable? Aren’t there brands that tap so deeply into their audience’s psyche that they inspire faithfulness, trust, and an endless stream of repeat purchases?
Yes, but it’s not because of loyalty.
The idea of brand loyalty is flawed for three major reasons:
1: Loyalty implies the battle is over—it isn’t.
You are locked into a relentless, ongoing war for attention. There is no time to rest on your laurels. You don’t win a skirmish against your competitor, capture an audience, and hold their loyal allegiance forever. You fight for their mindshare and purchasing power day after day. The false belief that you have won some decisive victory for your audience is a sure sign you’re about to be crushed by a more strategic opponent.
2: Loyalty places all the power in your audience—
when it should be in your hands.
Loyalty exists in the mind and heart. It’s an abstract concept that you have little control over. If you attribute your success to the state-of-mind of your audience, rather than to the practical, replicable success of your marketing strategy, you’re going to miss every opportunity to learn from the metrics that matter most. You thrive or die based on real-world tangibles like your budget and the ROI of your ad campaigns. Focus on those things you can control, rather than gambling your future on ideas locked in someone else’s head.
3: Loyalty ignores human nature—
instead of embracing it.
Humans are hardwired for self-preservation. We’re always asking ourselves, “What’s in this for me?” It’s our way of balancing risk and reward to optimize our survivability. As communal creatures, our instinct to protect our interests radiates beyond the self and extends to blood-kin or even people we consider part of our tribe… but let’s not kid ourselves, it doesn’t extend to corporations. Companies win repeat customers by demonstrating high value, whether that’s offering the greatest good for the lowest price or by offering elevated status and in-group prestige at a higher cost. It’s always about providing what human nature craves. Loyalty simply doesn’t figure into it.
So, if it’s not loyalty, what is it that inspires devotees of the world’s most powerful brands? It’s brand saturation.
What we call brand saturation is the practice of flooding a niche, hyper-specific target audience with custom-tailored value propositions and calls-to-action.
Apple, Harley, Coke, the Trump campaign… they mimic the behavior of brand loyalty in their droves of die-hard followers. But the truth is, they know it isn’t loyalty. If it was, they wouldn’t need to invest hundreds of millions of dollars each year in their marketing campaigns.
They know better than anyone that brand loyalty is a myth—and they’re happy for you to believe it, if it means you’re chasing ghosts and unicorns instead of investing serious money in a comprehensive marketing strategy that might actually steal some of their market share.
The world is flooded with competition. The internet—and especially the advent of smartphones—created a truly global economy.
The digital landscape provides 24/7 access to products and services that transcend all traditional boundaries of region and language. This level of competition obliterates the notion of loyalty. There are simply too many options. The balance of power has shifted to the consumer. They stand in the middle of all this competitive chaos, on the receiving end of millions of messages clamoring for their patronage. Brands are competing on price, quality, and status.
They are offering free 2-day shipping, buy one get one free, 50% off your next order, 10% of proceeds to charity. One company has 4.7 stars with 200 reviews and another has 4.2 stars with 20,000 reviews. Who do you choose?
When it comes to succeeding in the digital space there are a million factors to consider, but trying to generate or leverage some imaginary idea of brand loyalty is nowhere on the list.
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