June 17, 2013

Brand loyalty, and its two useful lessons

My brand loyalty “trick”: Whenever I give a talk to a good-sized audience (say 100+), I ask everybody to begin by standing up. I then ask them to sit down in answer to a series of screening criteria: “Sit down if you never buy candy bars.”  (25% sit.) “Sit down if you buy candy bars, but less than once a month.” (Another 25% sit.) “Once a month.” “Once a week.” “Several times a week.” “Almost every day.”

unwrapped object of brand loyaltyEventually, there’s only one person left standing, and I ask if she (and it’s almost always a she) buys the same candy bar every time. The answer is inevitably yes. “So tell us, what is the brand of that candy bar?” As she begins to answer, I whip out of my pocket the very brand she mentions: a Snickers bar.

There’s brand preference, and there’s brand loyalty, and then there’s fanatical devotion to a brand. Snickers is not just a best-seller, it’s apparently addictive, so the “trick” never fails.

Sure, there’s powerful loyalty to Harley-Davidson, and Apple, and Airstream trailers, but the bond’s unbreakable if the brand is bought with great frequency. You may pledge your loyalty once every 15 years to Sub-Zero refrigerators, but see what happens when you offer 200 affirmations a year to satisfy your candy bar jones. It gets wired into the brain, and (barring a bad user experience, or the onset of type 2 diabetes) it’s un-think-able to deviate from the pattern. Pick up the newspaper, buy a Snickers, ride the subway. Rinse and repeat.

There are people who scoff at the very idea of brand loyalty in the Too-Much-Information Age. You can’t count on customer loyalty – brands can only remain loyal to customers and hope they reciprocate. Well, you certainly can’t take them for granted.

But the two really useful lessons for brand holders? First, if you’re competing with Snickers, don’t target that super-loyal user. Target the other 99 that sat down before. Second, if you’re targeting the past buyers of Sub-Zero, you’ll have a slightly better chance to succeed.

P.S. Yes, we are available to keynote, do a workshop for, or speak to your industry association, ad club and/or trade group about branding and business growth. Call 312 836 0050. We bring the candy bar.