Brand Loyalty is a Two-Way Affair

Last Updated Jun 3, 2008 8:53 AM EDT

You likely have repeat customers who love your store, products and services. But they will discard you by the side of the road like yesterday's fish wrap for the first smart-talking competitor who bats an eyelash their way.

Why aren't customers more loyal?

It's because you haven't reciprocated the love they've showered on you, say Gerald and Lindsay Zaltman, authors of Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal about the Minds of Consumers.

In our interviews with brand managers, we often notice that while they think of consumer loyalty to a brand, they do not think of a brand as loyalty to its consumers. Consumers become aware of this one-sidedness. When asked, many loyal consumers did not feel that the company or the brand reciprocated their own commitment. While consumers may continue to use those brands and thus, by some standards, be deemed loyal, the loyalty is fragile.
How to earn that loyalty? Demonstrate to your customers that you have their best interests at heart. Make them feel connected or affiliated with something bigger than themselves. According to the book:
Managers must identify the dimensions of connection that are most relevant or could be made more relevant to consumers. For example, managers need to consider whether a product offers connection with, or disconnection from, others or oneself. And they must decide whether a connection is physical, social, or mental. Once these levels of connection are understood, marketing managers can better show how a product or service attends to the consumer's basic human needs.
By the way, customers are sensitive about how companies treat their workers. If your staff is grumpy about work conditions, you can forget building much loyalty with customers either, the Zaltmans observe.

Here's an interview in HBS Working Knowledge with the authors about the power of metaphor in advertising, brand marketing, and product design to drive that mystical connection between company and customer.

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.