Loyal Brands. We all have them. Brands we've integrated into our lives, brands that have become part of our identity. As a CMO, nothing could be more valuable.
Why are they in our lives?
The answer is simple: it's because we find them useful, and we like them.
This wasn’t what I was originally taught. I was schooled in the 4Ps of marketing: creating the right mix of product, price, place, and promotion. But I soon found that when you start from the customer’s point of view, it’s much simpler.
If a brand can make my life a bit better, it’s useful to me…provided I think it’s worth the price, and provided I can rely on it every time.
Usefulness can be achieved in different ways: saving a customer time or money perhaps, or creating a better experience. Of course, it has to be of sufficient value, and reliable, to be worth the customer’s investment. Otherwise, you have no brand.
However, usefulness alone is seldom enough. A brand also has to be likeable.
If I believe in what a brand stands for, I’ll like it…provided I believe it’s genuine.
There was a time when a brand could just become likeable through the image it projected via engaging advertising. Meanwhile, the real behaviors of the company sitting behind it were invisible. But in today's ever more connected world, with the frequency and variety of interactions multiplying for every brand, those behaviors are now exposed for all to see.
Customers can sense what a brand really believes in from those behaviors. They read the body language. So today, for a brand to be seen as genuine, the culture of the company behind it needs to live and breathe the brand each and every day.
It is possible to create a strong brand that’s useful but not likeable. Banks, for example, have been built on this: everyone needs a bank account, but once you are a customer, they traditionally made it very difficult to switch to another bank. The same goes for mobile phone operators, who tie customers in with two-year contracts. But this is trapping customers behind barriers, not earning their loyalty. And today, in category after category, those barriers are coming down.
Then, there are brands that are likeable, but just not useful enough. You might like Virgin America, for making flying "cool" and "fun," but it’s not much use if it doesn’t fly to where you need to go. And how many people say they really like Whole Foods, but just can’t afford to shop there?
However, it’s when a brand is both really useful and genuinely likeable that the magic starts.
If you’re useful to me, and I believe in what you stand for, then I’ll embrace you, integrate you into my life, and maybe even extol your virtues.
It's at this point the brand has become a part of the customer’s world. They identify with what it stands for, and may use it to express something about their own identity.
This is when you get real brand advocacy. Just think of Apple, Trader Joe’s, or Harley Davidson.
But there is one more condition.
If I'm going to embrace you, you better to be loyal to me in return.
It’s all too easy to take your customers’ loyalty for granted. But by embracing you, they’ve emotionally invested in you. You need to make them feel appreciated, to listen to them, and to live up to the reason they embraced you in the first place. In other words, if you want customers to be loyal, you need to be loyal to them in return.
Useful, likeable, and loyal . . . such are loyal brands.