Brand loyalty is a term that every marketer worth her salt is familiar with. As consumers, almost all of us can call to mind companies that have achieved a cult-like following. Harley Davidson riders tattoo the company’s logo on their bodies. Apple customers queue outside their stores for days before new products launch.

 

But does repeat business always equal loyalty?

 

In every category we are spoilt for choice. When we’re in the market for a new product or service, we make decisions based on solution-fit. Features, convenience, price and promotions all come into play.

 

The local sushi shop might win our business because it’s on the way to work. Our choice of wine might be based on what’s on special at the time. Both car and computer manufacturers entice buyers with extra inclusions.

 

Limited time discounts, cash-back offers, gifts with purchase, bundled warranties and a whole host of other tactics are employed by marketers to win market share. And where a first brand experience has been positive, customers may feel compelled to buy again.

 

But what happens when a competitor sweeps in? Perhaps a new sushi shop opens up slightly closer. Or a comparable car brand is offering free petrol for a year plus all the extras?

 

The difference between repeat business and brand loyalty is in the customer’s motivation.

 

Where purchases are motivated by promotion, customer relationships tend to be transient. Customers may buy again, but they don’t have a steadfast commitment to the one brand. And competing promotions can easily tempt the customer away.

 

Brand loyalty, on the other hand, is achieved when no other brand will do. It’s achieved when customers will drive across town to go to their favourite store, even though there are other alternatives closer. It’s achieved when they’re willing to pay a premium, though this is not always a necessity. And it is achieved when customers feel a sense of connectedness with the brand.

 

Brand loyalty withstands the lure of competitor discounts, cash-back offers, gifts with purchase and celebrity endorsements. It’s achieved when all other alternatives are ignored.

 

Fostering brand loyalty is about where you spend your time and energy as a business; and the decision between creating products and experiences that people will love, or crafting promotional messages that people can’t resist.

 

When the balance of our energies is in promotions, and not on product development or perfecting the customer experience, it is easy to see how customers fail to build a connection with the brand.

 

But if, instead, we make a commitment to providing an exceptional customer experience, driving value at every interaction, developing brand trust, aligning every feature with customer needs and building a culture that customers can connect with, we give our customers an experience they’ll look forward to and in turn, give brand loyalty a fighting chance.