How to build brand loyalty

As we climb out of the recession, most organizations face two major challenges: growth (preferably sustained) and differentiation. For some, like those in the financial industry, the focus is on repositioning and reestablishing trust. For others, like value-based retailers, this represents a new day dawning, and an opportunity to completely reinvigorate their brand and perhaps even disrupt the category.

Those tasked with managing brands are likely to feel that their job is less about ‘management’ and increasingly focused on the creation of new value. In fulfilling this task, managers are also likely to be overwhelmed with the complexity of today’s requirements of staying ‘on brand’, not just across offerings, but across the business system. Why? The new brand challenge is a systems design dilemma, not merely a communications problem.

This is a profound shift. The branding profession’s old by-lines largely support an approach where a brand’s position was marketed AT people. Loyalty can now more than ever be better understood by looking at the cumulative effect of preceding actions. Loyalty is built upon belief. Belief is rooted in trust. Trust is achieved through witnessed actions, and usually over many personal experiences. Think of the classic team-building exercise of falling backwards to be caught by a co-worker. So, to build loyalty, we must start by taking action. Welcome to the new brand age of ‘Show me, don’t tell me’.

So, why are so many brands continue to spend so many marketing dollars asking for loyalty instead of proving their viability through the actions of their offerings? Through social media and technological developments brands now have the ability to capture new audiences and build loyal behavior by co-creating products, services, and experiences WITH people. Here are four themes to attract new and existing customers that can grow brand value and drive loyal behavior.

Participation

Arguably the focus on ease and convenience has contributed to the laissez-faire attitude that brands now compete to overcome. But if we think about it, many things we enjoy are a result of us having worked for them. The chocolate after a hard workout, or redeeming our credit card or frequent flyer points for that special trip. The provocation to brand mangers; people actually enjoy participating. Making that participation seamless and easy is the challenge.

Value + Values

The recession, impacts of excess, and personal reflection have led people to look inward at the impacts of our consumption choices-personally, financially and otherwise. This has led people to ask not just what brands they might prefer, but whether they should make a purchase in the first place. Along with those things we do choose, we find ourselves wanting to be more responsible through our decision to purchase. This is forcing brands to evaluate the impact of their offering to customers, and the benefits of those offerings over time. A new watch evokes a personal statement. So does the yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet. But over time, which one gives me more of a sense of pride, starts more meaningful conversations, and reflects a sense of value with values? I’m not saying we shouldn’t own a nice watch, but brands can take a lesson in delivering experiences that resonate with values beyond profits. By understanding and addressing customer values over time, brands can deliver experiences that resonate with those values and deepen the relationship between your offerings and the people who use them.

Transparency

The democratization of information has resulted in the beginnings of a paradigm shift in how brands manage themselves. The demand for companies and brands to be more transparent about values and operations is forcing the role of brand management to consider the system context of a brands business model, offerings, and communications.

In some cases, these values can drive trust and loyalty among consumers as much as the product in the package. For example, clothing manufacturer Patagonia has published a visually compelling section of their website called the Footprint Chronicles, which shows you where their products are made and where they’re shipped. Dole bananas is another example highlighting a website function that takes you to a satellite image of the farm where the fruit was grown.

Anytime, Anywhere

Technology’s ever-increasing capability to provide immediate feedback is advancing beyond the ‘touch of a button’ to become more intelligent. Our physical realities will increasingly be influenced by layer of augmented reality that we will revolutionize the ‘conversations’ with the places and things around us. If you’re on vacation and want to find out who designed that cool building in front of you, just aim your mobile at the space, and the interface will bring you context specific details. The next time you walk into your favorite clothing store, you may be surprised to get a discount coupon on a nice accent handbag that matches the jacket you bought there a few weeks ago. Brand will become even more complex with messages carried through products, third party conversations, and even amongst the computing devices themselves, further blurring the line between our physical and virtual realities.

So, while it seems clear that the game has changed, it seems odd that the marketing and advertising world should hang on so dearly to a message-oriented function. Instead, why don’t we revisit our approach to what drives perception and behavior and focus our marketing R&D investments into areas that focus more on what brands do and less on what they say. In the end, people will make up their own minds. May the best brands win.