For more than 25 years I’ve been seeking to understand why people are ‘loyal’ to a brand and what brands can do to increase the loyalty of consumers. I’ve read countless articles including academic papers, leading business publications, books and research studies on the subject; explored the fields of neuroscience, psychology, sociology and history to gain a comprehensive understanding of what triggers or attributes make people genuinely ‘loyal’. In the end, I’ve concluded that there is no clear definition of loyalty because the elements that incite loyalty vary, and are largely dependent on the person and/or the situation. About 10 years ago a group of colleagues and I developed a model that we felt was the foundation of a loyal state. The model has three dimensions: Value, Brand and Dialogue. In the middle of this model is the concept of design, data and technology that allows brands to dynamically power the three dimensions across a broad set of consumers, and to apply the right lever based on the individual and the particular situation. When all three dimensions are satisfied for a consumer, loyalty is achieved. Unlike the law of trade-offs where you must only settle for two, all three dimensions must be realized for loyalty to be authentic. For example:
- If Value existed alone, the consumer will not be genuinely loyal because a competitor who offers a greater value can entice the consumer to leave.
- When Brand is the only driver, loyalty exists as long as the consumer feels their trust hasn’t been breached. Brand value by itself is not enough to elicit genuine loyalty.
- If the Dialogue component exists alone, conversations may become more interesting with a competitor and loyalty will fade.
Only when all three components are fully executed between the brand and the consumer does loyalty truly emerge in a way that’s meaningful and sustainable. In retrospect, since the development of this theoretical model, there has been a sufficient opportunity to test the theory. Though not yet scientifically proven, the patterns are consistent enough to receive merit and encourage us to do more rigorous research and testing. In my next posts I’ll explore and further define each component. In the process, we’ll uncover what enables marketers to get consumers involved in all three elements of the model. Stay tuned.