September 20, 2016

Does Brand Loyalty Have A Future?

Jill Brittlebank, senior director, strategy & analytics at Zeta Interactive, argues that brand loyalty is far from dead.

A lot of people seem to think brand loyalty is a thing of the past. What do you think?

There are a lot of young people who are very brand loyal. Brand loyalty, or what drives brand loyalty, is shifting. As consumers we’ve become more cynical. The way to build loyalty is evolving, as well as the way in which you need to drive loyalty and maintain it. I’m still loyal to a number of brands for different reasons. The motivation of loyalty used to be about5 reassurance and confidence. Brand loyalty back in the post-war days was as complex as it is now but with drivers behind it. Brand loyalty now is about smoothing the path and delivering specific benefits that are valued by consumers now. As consumers, what we value and look for has evolved over time. I don’t think brand loyalty is dead. I think it’s very much alive and kicking but just differently.

Are there certain types of people who are more brand loyal than others?

There are people who are loyal to different elements of the purchase decision. There are people who are loyal to price, by getting a good deal. There are people who are loyal by convenience. They’ll go to the nearest store. And there are people who are loyal by habit.

Are there any companies in particular you think are doing a good job in fostering brand loyalty?

Everyone says Amazon. They’ve looked across the customer journey and made it ridiculously easy to buy from them and difficult to buy from anyone else. They appeal at different levels to all of those drivers of loyalty – whether that’s convenience with Prime, price, encouraging you to come back with all sorts of nudges. So if you’ve been browsing on the site you’ll get follow up from Amazon, such as “don’t forget…”, “come back…”, “people who looked at that also liked this…”. All those techniques to bring you back to purchase something. On almost every element of loyalty they are working hard.

Are brands generally getting the customer journey right?

There’s a range of some brands doing it really well and having a personality with it. And there are some brands blasting out emails with one-way communication with “buy, buy, buy” messaging. But there are a lot of brands improving their customer journey. So I think there’s definitely an increase in focus on customer journey. The first step in creating a great customer journey is having a clear understanding of your brand position.

How important is omni-channel in creating brand loyalty?

As consumers, we expect a brand to know who we are across channels. We expect a brand to recognise and value our transactions across channels. And, if they don’t, there starts to become a disconnect. From a CRM perspective it’s as much about making sure you’re not introducing negative points of dissidence into the customer journey.

Do you think some brands get a bit carried away with the latest trends of social media for example?

Each channel has a purpose and a role in consumers’ lives. Obviously you want to go where the people play but in a way that’s relevant to your brand and to them. As Facebook has matured as a channel and is much more mainstream it makes a lot more sense. But if on Snapchat or Twitter you don’t have something relevant to say, do or show that’s appropriate to why people are on that channel, it’s like being at a party and there’s a closed little group and you’re on the edge trying to elbow your way in. You don’t want to be the brand that’s the annoying person at the party trying to elbow into a group that’s having a good time.

How can brands improve their omni-channel strategy?

Start with data and being able to identify who the customer is at key inflection points. For some brands that means using a really big data lake and for some it means it’s about using data in a more agile way and understanding where it makes sense to do some heavy lifting and integrate the data.

How can analytics help with holiday marketing?

Using data analytics for marketing around holidays is fundamentally important. It’s about the disconnect with customers if you get the message wrong. Pre-Christmas it’s well documented that email volume goes up and engagement drops down as consumers become more and more inundated with messaging. On the flip side, if you start with the data and start with understanding the customer you can learn who engages, and how, when and why. Most brands have groups of customers who only engage with them at particular times of the year. A lot of customers will only engage with brands during a holiday period or pre-Christmas or pre-summer.

How important is a decent CRM tool for nailing your onmi-channel strategy?

The ability to recognise customers across channels – ingest data and act on insights – sometimes near real time is fundamental now. If you sign up to a website and you get a welcome message a day or two later feels like a disconnect nowadays. We all have our devices in our hands and expect near real-time response when we interact with brands. If you fill in a web contact form and the brand contacts you a week later that doesn’t feel sufficient now. We all have a perceived sensed of urgency. We live in real-time and want brands to responds in real-time. So many customers choose to contact companies via Facebook and Twitter because they feel they will be responded to quicker.


How do you think brand loyalty will evolve in the coming years?

Brands that continue to understand consumer needs and how those needs change, and anticipate those needs, delivering regardless of channel, and the push and pull of customer interaction. These are the ones that are going to deliver. And making our lives a little bit easier. Uber makes our lives a little bit easier. AirBnB, in a lot of ways, makes travel more affordable and more accessible, and appeals to the modern consumer. Consumers are quite last people. If we can avoid researching brands, products or services or just do it once, as long as we don’t end up disappointed, we tend to be quite habitual. Brands that continue to meet our needs, and occasionally deliver a little bit extra, will continue to appeal to a segments of customers.