Companies spend considerable resources to instill brand loyalty. Loyal customers not only consistently buy a brand but also invest time in brand advocacy. The key ingredient of brand loyalty develops when a brand resonates with an audience’s personal identity. Loyalty arises these deep relationships between the customer and brand. It’s ownership: “This brand is mine!” The result of such a brand attachment (loyalty) mimics the attachment we have with other humans.
Recently, brand attachment has been at the core of new research activity; the goal is to uncover some universal truths about audience drivers of loyalty. These efforts are particularly important because of the ever-increasing demand for companies to offer genuinely appealing—authentic—consumer products. In this Social Media era, when the customer’s voice is publically read, a simple misstep could derail brand loyalty, brand equity, and sales in an hour.
One area of study about the connection between authentic appeals and loyalty involves company histories. For example, many of today’s successful companies have origin stories that border on the implausible; any garage-technology start-up that is now a multi-billion-dollar multinational firm had to beat incredible odds. Research headed by Hal Ersner-Hershfield at Northwestern University shows that customers who actively imagine the start-up failure of a favorite company experience an increase both in sadness about what might not have been and in happiness about what is. These feelings of poignancy ultimately increase loyalty. Similarly, research by Neeru Paharia at Harvard University shows that in a sea of large competitors, companies that project an underdog personality generate higher levels of customer loyalty than do companies that present a dominant, mainstream personality. References to humble (garage) origins, restricted access to financial capital, or a citation of “passion and determination” are all effective components of an underdog personality.
Jennifer Aaker (Stanford University) suggests that people prefer to deal with brands and products that project warmth in addition to competence, skill, and reliability. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream’s “warmth” strategy demonstrates Aaker’s point. Ben & Jerry’s communicates that it is unlikely to engage in moral-code-of-conduct violations—such as harming the environment, lying, or producing inferior products that may harm people. Recent efforts to promote corporate social responsibility and sustainability via warm communications are part of an overall business strategy to increase brand loyalty. An effective increase in customer awareness and connection through warm initiatives can add up to increased customer admiration for firms and brands; poorly executed perceptions of green washing can erode brand loyalty.
Because brand loyalty depends on a strong and sustained fit between the identity or motivational profile of consumers and brand personalities, the ability to identify and develop specific loyalty profiles reliability—profiles focusing on the psychological benefits different types of customers are seeking when interacting with brands—is extremely useful.