Brand loyalty goes beyond to a larger societal shift

The consumer is an infidel. Marketers might take a stronger exception, to this rather strong statement. But the truth, not sugar coated, is out in the open. Scan any market and you will observe that consumers follow loyalty only in the breach, be it in fashion, technology, durables and even careers.

Because loyalty or the lack of it goes beyond brand loyalty to a larger societal shift in the way consumers view loyalty, and disloyalty. Staying loyal to your employer, career, or for that matter relationship is no longer sacrosanct. That possibly explains entrepreneurs spotting business opportunities and the rise of portals like second shaadi, second career and so on. Speak to the so called ‘disloyal’ consumer and you are likely to spot a sentiment that says “Loyalty, what’s that?” or “Oh, you are so old-fashioned”.

That disloyalty-is-cool is also being reflected in the advertising of these times. The Airtel Digital TV commercial featuring Saif Ali Khan ditching his childhood sweetheart in a nano-second is just one illustration. On YouTube only a minor part of the comments on the ad actually express anguish over the fact that Saif changes his mind after one fleeting glance and opts for Kareena Kapoor. The majority are more interested in details like the singer of the ad jingle or how the jilted model looks better than Kareena Kapoor.

However, there are still some pockets where you will continue to see some semblance of loyalty. But these are the exceptions where consumers are forced to stay in a relationship with a brand because of the associated problems in changing service providers for a gas connection, electricity supply or staying with the same telecom services provider to hold on to the phone number.

Marketers do not buy these arguments very easily. For them loyalty is anything but dead. “How else do you explain Nokia’s dominant market share in cellphones”. Experimentation is now a part of life for consumers who are forever seeking variety but does not see it as a problem that’s going out of hand.

However, there is a mounting stack of evidence to suggest that few companies are prepared to tackle the evolving consumer. A study by ClozR, ad agency Dentsu’s customer relationship and loyalty division suggests that only 60% of companies even have a stated plan of dealing with customers. Worse, most managers have discounted the accuracy of their customer contact information, with estimates varying from as low as 40% to 55%.

Loyalty, if any exists today, is by default as the choice consumers make when all other factors are constant. The loyalty quotient is defined by the community you belong to, the status you have, the friendships you make and above all the memories that connect these worlds. The loyalty quotient has gone beyond the patriotism of the thing to loyalty to an ecology.

But this ecology is fragile. For instance, see how the concept of friendship has evolved. Earlier people had a few “thick and fast friends”. Today, friendships are defined by the number of connections on your social network. The more friends, the better is your social status. It’s widely accepted that these friends are not forever. One bad experience and the relationship is finished for good. Same with brands. There are too many of them in the market and the relationships between consumers and brands are not as thick as it would be in the past.

Even if consumers switch between brands, they will always switch within a given consideration set. And belonging to that consideration set can vary depending on what category one belongs to.