A recent study from the National Opinions Research Center found that almost 15% of married women and 21% of married men admitted to having extramarital affairs at some point throughout their marriages .
Let that sink in for a second.
Now, consider how most brands today believe that these same people are unwaveringly loyal when it comes to the brand name of shampoo in their shower. Or the logo on their sneakers. Or even the insignia on their automobile. Point is, our assumptions of how loyalty works is often incongruent with the reality of what loyalty is.
In his book How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know, market researcher Byron Sharp builds on a wealth of empirical evidence to suggest that, despite all the pontification from marketing professionals, customer loyalty is largely a myth. His findings underline the important (and often overlooked) Duplication of Purchase Law which states that all brands within a category share their customer base with other brands of similar size. This explains why 72% of Coke drinkers in the UK say they also drink Pepsi, for example . It also explains why even the most ardent brand advocates aren’t always brand exclusive.
Martin Weigel articulated this masterfully in his essay The Liberation of Magic:
“Loyalty is much more like an open marriage than one characterized by unwavering monogamy and devotion… Irrespective of the category we examine, we see that the vast majority of buyers are in fact not loyal to a single brand. Devoted loyalty – borne of the belief that other brands just aren’t as good, or just aren’t the same – does not exist. Instead, consumers are perfectly happy to buy from a repertoire of brands.”
There are plenty of marketers out there today that have built bonafide businesses by throwing around language like fans, ambassadors, brand activists, and loyalty. And there are just as many B-school whitepapers saying things like, 1.5% of shoppers drive 80% of sales for the average new CPG product; or, the top brand buyers are almost 6 times more likely to try a brand’s new products than average shoppers . And those aren’t entirely moot points.
- there are usually fewer of them than non-customers, and
- they are typically more influenced by product experience than by communications.
Binet and Field use this IPA data to demonstrate that across nearly every category, “superfans” represent such a small segment of potential customers that it doesn’t even come close to reaching a critical mass for communications. You know, the majority of Nike owners don’t have a logo tattooed across their chests. And even among those select “passion brands” that seemingly have an unyielding consumer allegiance, communications are less likely to influence purchase behavior — which may explain why a brand like Apple has deliberately ignored ambassador outreach, centralized CRM or even social media engagement in general.
So while building brand loyalty has become one of the more popular marketing mantras of recent years, it’s important to at least acknowledge its limitations. It’s not quite the marketing panacea that keynote speakers and best-selling authors lead us to believe it is — at least not when it comes to delivering against hard business goals. Loyalty may be valuable as a marketing output but it tends to be pretty poor as a marketing objective.
David Ogilvy once famously said, “the consumer is not a moron… she’s your wife.” And for some, there may be an uncomfortable amount of truth to that now.