One of the most difficult experiences for a focus group moderator is to be in a room with eight people who are supposed to be "loyalists" of a particular brand and discover that most could care less. The assumption, of course, was that anyone who was a heavy user had to have an affinity for the brand. So, you made sure that everyone purchased the brand in the past month and had purchased the brand three times in the past six months; they were very heavy users.
But they stared at you blankly when you tried to discuss what the brand stood for or what it meant to them. The fact is, to develop a meaningful understanding of a brand's essence, you can't simply talk to users; you have to talk to people who are passionate about the brand.
So, here are four things to remember when looking for your true (blue) customers
- Users are not always loyalists.
This is the most obvious point. When you need to talk to or understand people who are passionate about you brand, don't be coy. Don't create elaborate usage algorithms. You need to be assured that they do use your brand, but it is more important to ask them, "Is this your favorite brand?"
And, a corollary might be the usage is not affinity. Efforts to build loyalty, such as loyalty programs, can stimulate and reinforce usage, but they do not necessarily build affinity and engagement.
Finally, loyalty and affinity may be as much a feature of the category as it is of your brand. Coke and Pepsi have spent years and fortunes building up the notion that it is important to be loyal to one or the other. How could I not be a Coke or Pepsi loyalist? In effect, you have to be passionate about soft drinks before you can be a Coke or Pepsi loyalist.
- Loyalty is a disposition.
Some consumers seem more disposed to being passionate about the brands they use. They want to engage with them. They derive satisfaction from the simple act of choosing a brand and feeling it is "theirs."
- Loyalists bring as much to your brand as the brand gives to them.
As much as marketers like to see themselves as charting a brand's essence, users have often been in the driver seat. In the years of Honda's rise as a major automotive brand in the US, it crafted an image as a solid, reliable car. Yet, when I talked with Honda owners, I was always struck by how solid, reliable and careful they were. How could a car not be reliable when it was driven by such owners?
- Look to their youth.
Loyalty to your brand does not come out of nowhere. If it is deep, it has been there for a long time. As a child I remember watching 20th Century on CBS television. It was sponsored by Prudential Insurance. The Rock of Gibraltar will always be in the back of my head when I think about my insurance.
If you are really looking to find your loyalists, you might well discover that they have had a relationship with your brand long before they actually purchased it. A large number of Porsches are driven by people who have wanted to own one since they were twelve. Ask the question, "What are your first memories of a brand?" If they can't go back into their past, they probably aren't a true loyalist.
This all seems to point to the importance of social media in building a brand and engaging loyalists. Social media give loyalists an arena to engage with brands, to define both themselves and the brand. But, there is a trap in social media for marketers. Recent research suggest that most individuals "friend" retailers on Facebook to get deals. That is, social media encourages usage. Does it create engagement and bonding; is it a two-way street? That is what social media must do to encourage loyalty.
At C+R we are ready to help you understand your "loyal" customers and how to stimulate their engagement with you.