Brand loyalty is a bit like a love affair

Brand marketers however disagree that consumers today are outright flirts, or even that they look at all brands with the same pair of lenses. You will always have a few good friends and similarly a few close brands, is their argument. But even in this set of beliefs the tenets of loyalty are being redefined. For the traditional concept of brand loyalty as we knew it — consumers staying loyal to a single brand in a given category at any point of time is on the verge of extinction.

If the ability to innovate ensures your entry into the consideration set in the case of mobile handsets, it is “the loyalty towards the country of origin is high in automobiles. In the spirits business, consumers choose their brand and even variety of spirits according to occasion, companions and the time of the day they are consumed.

For example, the same consumer might order for white spirits when they are in the company of females, but order whisky when they are in an all male group. Similarly, the same consumer might consume chilled beer in the comfort of home on a sunny afternoon. If that was bad enough, the brands consumed on each of these opportunities could belong to different companies.

Women in metros are slowly imbibing qualities that we’ve always associated with men. This is seen even in their relationship with brands. They experiment, they flirt and they change their minds as often as their male counterparts do. Considering that these are women with money to spend, marketers have taken notice of this trend of disloyal women consumers.

Earlier consumers had a loyalty equation based on the emotion that ‘you have done so much for me over the years’. Now the ‘what have you done for me lately’ question often surfaces.

That question has become a nagging one, even in categories once considered to be having the highest loyalty quotients – foods and skin care for example. To ensure that such consumers do not desert your brand in droves, it is necessary to ensure that there are enough safeguards in place. You have to protect yourself against the next big innovation. Nokia the handset maker does so by launching one new handset model every two weeks and is also graduating into services in a big way. Cadbury’s on its part offers what consumers want — variety. In the UK for instance, Dairy Milk the company’s mother brand has 27 variants. But chlorophyll’s Halve warns that in catering to the consumer’s quest for variety you could run the risk of over-innovating. You can innovate your way to hell.

In the past, loyalty programs would send you brochures offering discounts on everything from delivering bouquets to buying chocolates, irrespective of whether it was an airline or a department store. Loyalty itself got commoditised. Only when you stay relevant to your primary category does the value of loyalty go up,” he says and adds that companies are learning from their mistakes.

But what is loyalty today might not be loyalty tomorrow. The loyalty quotient is a circle of memory. They are not numbers which provide an index of loyalty but a polysemic notion where a thing is tied to ideas like friendship, joy, everydayness and their beauty. Probably, loyalty is due for rebirth. Another day, another time, and another form.

The trouble with concepts like loyalty is that they float happily about reality and yet seem to define the real for people who make decisions around markets. Taken seriously loyalty quotients like the word mid-life crisis say too much and too little. Taken playfully, it shows connections that we may not otherwise think about.

For example, brand loyalty is a bit like a love affair. As a philosopher once said, the thing about love is the amount of tension it can stand. To love a product is not like loving a human being. But when a product is treated like a human being, brand loyalty is born. The irony is, instead of loyalty being defined by patriotism or ethnicity it is defined by brand loyalty. The loyalty quotient is contoured. The community you belong, the status you have, the friendships you make but above all the memories that connect these worlds define a loyalty quotient.