Brand loyalty has been the Holy Grail of marketing for decades. But why should brands expect loyalty from humans, when humans struggle to be loyal even to other humans?

The evolution of loyalty can be summarised as:

Brand loyalty in the past was based on scarcity and slow connections – or loyalty was passed onto new generations through the family, with new generations using brands purely because their parents did; what followed is history.

Availability in developed markets has made loyalty a competition. It has resulted in better price, better service, although not always at the benefit of better quality for the consumer. After all this effort to build brand loyalty, recent research says that UK consumers wouldn’t care if 94% of brands disappeared. Is your brand one of them?

Analogue vs. digital

The good news is that digital is changing the rules; consider this short analogy. How many telephone numbers could we remember 20 years ago? Now, passwords to access our apps and accounts have replaced phone numbers in our brain. Phone numbers have been stored in our substitute brain: the smartphone. As such, the same can happen to brands.
In the analogue age consumers had a maximum of 3 to 5 brands in the top of their mind. Today our little pocket brain could at least double the number of brands we have relationship with. Is it loyalty? Not really, but it helps to create “intimacy” (i.e. the level of familiarity a consumer has with a brand) between brands and consumers.
So, does that mean it is all over for ‘loyalty’? Certainly not.

It is still critical to retain customers using whichever strategy is the most effective for your brand. In addition, analysing ‘intimacy’ provides brands with an extra dimension missing in the analogue world: the propensity to share experiences. The big difference is that there is little variance between prospects and customers – both are equally important.

It comes as no surprise that the highest level of intimacy is at the ‘second moment of truth’ when the brand is ‘consumed’. In the mean time, we are more inclined to share our experiences after the first ‘encounter’ rather than once the brand consumption has become routine.
So, the axiom that we should pursue loyalty to achieve advocacy was true in the analogue world, but no longer in the world of digital and social media. Hence, the pursuit of brands should be to build the highest level of intimacy with their customers that maximises their propensity to share and talk about their experience.

Measuring intimacy

Measuring intimacy can inform what time, what message, what media and how often a brand can connect effectively with its customers. Finally when it can expect advocacy and to whom it will matter. In addition, intimacy is defining the level of personalisation that a brand should consider.

The result of focusing on ‘brand intimacy’ is a significant increase in media effectiveness. More importantly it is a sustainable approach to brand building. But the measure of intimacy comes as a result of the brand data integration and the definition of the single view of the customer.

This is only achievable through the digital marketing transformation of the brand’s organisation. It is not about replacing an old funnel and marketing process with a more contemporary one, but about aligning all organisational capabilities to a twenty-first century way of marketing. Is your brand ready for it?