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What Are Consumers Really Loyal To?

broken ropeAs the economy faltered late last year, a lot of the marketers we work with started rethinking how important their brands were to consumers. With less money to spend, less access to credit, and less confidence in the U.S. economy, consumers were rethinking when and where they spent every dollar. The question marketers asked us in response was simple: “how do I become a brand consumers can’t do without?”

After a year or so of digging, we learned a very simple but compelling thing about consumer loyalty: it’s probably not you they’re loyal to in the end. While most marketers think their brands have loyal consumers, what they really have are habit-driven consumers—and when a shock occurs to a consumer’s economic reality, it probably doesn’t take much to break their “habit” with your brand.

If it’s not the brand consumers are loyal to, what is it? We saw that emotional attachments to brands certainly do exist, but that connection typically starts with a “shared value” that consumers believe they hold in common with the brand. A couple of my colleagues explore the notion of a “shared value” in a little more detail in this interview if you’re interested in hearing more:

To listen to the Podcast Click the Play Button Below

[podcast]https://mlc.executiveboard.com/Public/Podcasts/20091021_ceb_mlc.mp3[/podcast]

Dan and Chip Heath also explore the power of shared values in a recent article for Fast Company; check it out here.

As we start to see signs of a turnaround, the notion of brand loyalty seems just as important as it did in a lousy economy.  If consumers are attached to our brand—or a shared value they believe your brand embodies—we have the freedom to spend less on messaging, less on discounting, and we may even have more “surface area” to explore new products and services.

My question to the marketing faithful: does a “shared value” have to be born from the history and culture of an organization, or can we get out the dry erase markers and come up with a new one?

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