Is brand loyalty really just brand ignorance?

Do we make decisions about what to buy or who to support based on rational calculations of value, craftsmanship, and cost, or are we simply ignorant about alternatives? What does Twitter have to do with all of this? Hint: if I don’t mention Twitter, no one will pay attention. :)

Built Ford tough, not like wimpy Chevrolets

Brand loyalism is often seen as both virtue and weakness. Think about people who bought nothing but increasingly-expensive, gas-guzzling General Motors monsters for years. Their loyalty brought pain, not just on themselves, but on the nation as a whole. Meanwhile, some family that bought a Honda fifteen years ago is still driving that Honda (and getting amazing mileage, to boot). Loyalty to a trademark helps create a stable market for that particular trademark, but it’s also less likely to contribute positively to the macroeconomic flows that make sense for our “free market” system. We stay loyal because…well, who knows?

It’s all that I’ve ever known…

Here’s a possibility: We stay loyal to particular brands because of a bad experience with a competitor, or more likely, we have little or no experience of alternatives. I will swear up and down on Breville products, not simply because of their high price and fine craftsmanship, but because I’ve never used a comparable appliance. I’m ignorantly loyal.

Let’s be sure – ignorant does not mean stupid. It simply shows us that we are willfully ignoring other possibilities. We’ll continue to go to the same mechanic that our parents went to even when we know that the chain store down the street might be cheaper. We trust Bill the Mechanic because he’s Bill the Mechanic.

Donate, donate, donate NOW!

Think about which organizations (or political candidates, for that matter) receive your hard-earned dollars in the form of charitable donations. Why do you give to that particular group? I have never sent a check to Oxfam, an absolutely awesome humanitarian agency. I donate to The 1010 Project instead. Why? Any fundraising professional will tell you that one of the most clear indicators of a person’s likelihood to donate is a personal relationship with the organization, either through a person or general proximity. I worked for some time as a fundraiser for The 1010 Project, so I understand this quite clearly. :)

A personal touch

The advent of social media marketing and customer service has, in my opinion, created huge opportunities to increase brand loyalty. In the quintessential example, you take to Twitter/Facebook/blog to bitch about Product X by Company Y, only to have Company Y respond in minutes with an offer to make all things right with your world. You go from being ready to depart from the brand entirely to being glued to them forever for their strong customer service.

I have developed many brand loyalties (if not particular product loyalties, which is a separate conversation) in the past few years. In almost every case, this is because of the personal touch. I drink St. Supery wine because of Rick Bakas and his incessant tweeting about it. I drink mate because of the receptive and socially responsible company Guayaki. I shop at REI because it’s a cooperative and the staff are always ridiculously helpful. My running shoes are Nike because my old roommate Erin refused to run in anything else. I drink GT’s kombucha (when it’s in stores) because…I can’t stop. :)

Why are you loyal to a brand?

PS – For an extra deep dive into economic rationality and stuff, check out Tim Nuccio’s post about brand loyalty.

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