The End of Brand Loyalty

As marketers or small business owners, there is no better vision for our future than amassing a large number of loyal customers.

Strong brands used to rely on those brands to reach customers. Brands stood for something. They signaled to customers the kind of quality and service they could expect. They helped well-established companies fend off smaller rivals, because customers were more likely to go with brands they knew and liked versus taking a chance and trying something new.

Newsflash: that’s not the case anymore

Over the last five years, all indicators point to the fact that brand loyalty is in decline. Consumers are more likely than ever before to shop around, looking for the best value instead of choosing and sticking with a particular brand.

Why is this happening?

Theories abound on why there is such a strong decline in brand loyalty among consumers. I’ve managed to find three lines of thinking that combine to account for this on the aggregate:

  1. Consumers have more power than they used to. In our digital world, transparency is key. The ability to shop around is greater than it used to be. There is an endless amount of information out there for the savvy consumer, and they’re using to ensure they make the best possible purchasing decisions.
  2. Companies have eroded trust in the marketplace. It’s no surprise that this recent decline coincides with the recent financial crisis. Large companies in a wide variety of industries have been the perpetrators of great injustices against the public, their customers among them. Why would consumers feel loyalty to specific brands when they don’t feel that same loyalty in exchange.
  3. The pace of technology puts more pressure on companies to change and evolve. Customers have higher expectations, partially due to the proliferation of technology impacting all facets of their daily lives. Companies that move too slowly let competitors take the lead and risk losing once-loyal customers in the process.

What does it mean?

Loyalty is a two-way street. No longer is it effective or acceptable for companies to spend massive amounts of money on branding, with the hope of adding new customers who plan to stay for life. It just isn’t happening.

Companies need to change the way they think about their brand. They need to change the way they think about their marketing. And they need to change the way that they think about engaging with customers.

It’s not enough anymore to publicly claim that you “put customers first”. You actually have to do it.

That change comes from the top down. It involves a shift in culture that focuses on delivering unmatched customer experiences, in sales, in service, in product design, etc.

Maybe we can’t count on brands ever being as trusted as they once were, or on consumers to ever be as loyal as they once were. But the very best companies, the ones with the biggest upside in this shifting landscape, are those that truly act in the best interest of the marketplace.

Top Customer Service Mistakes

For those who don’t see the connection between customer service and marketing, I ask that you broaden the way you think about marketing. A marketer’s objective is to tell a story, to connect that story both to the brand and products he represents as well as the target market of consumers. The goal is to reach consumers, get them interested, bring them to the door, and sell to them.

For many, it ends there. But I would argue that one of the most important jobs a marketer has is to make sure that story they are telling is true. When customers’ experiences don’t match up with what they expected, they’re not going to be happy. They’re not going to purchase from you again. And they might even ask for a refund.

Customer service is an extension of marketing because it’s a direct point of contact between the company and the customer. It is a continuation of the story marketers are telling.

Here are the top 7 customer service mistakes a company can make:

  1. Not Training Properly – customer service agents need to know the ins and outs of everything you sell. They need to know the answer to every question before it gets asked, or at least who to go to when they don’t know the answer. And as marketing and product teams make changes, those changes need to be communicated to customer service teams quickly and effectively.
  2. Not Making Yourself Available – there’s nothing worse than not being able to reach a customer service rep when you need one. Phones, emails, social media, live chat, and in store, it’s critical that your customer service teams are accessible nearly 24/7. If that’s not possible, at least create a way for customers to reach out and then be sure to get back to them as soon as possible.
  3. Not Enough Technology – the right technology makes a customer service agent’s job easier by giving them easy access to product information, customer records, and the tools they need to respond to complaints.
  4. Not Giving an Inch – customer service teams need to have some flexibility in how they respond to customers. Company policies are fine, but leeway is needed to solve customer problems before they turn into larger complaints and negative reviews.
  5. Not Making the Customer Happy – continuing from #4 above, a customer service rep should do whatever it takes to create happy customers. Sometimes this can be in the form of a discount or refund of some kind. Other times it may be a replacement, or some other “make good”. Customer service can sometimes seem more like counseling, and it should be the goal of service teams to turn angry or upset customers into happy ones if they can, no matter what it takes.
  6. Not Acknowledging Your Flaws – let’s be honest, the customer is not always right. But neither is your company. Mistakes are made, and no product is perfect. Customer service teams need to know the most common complaints or issues they’re going to deal with and have a solution when they hear them. And they need to be able to voice those concerns back to other departments in the organization to affect positive changes.
  7. Not Following Up – you may not be able to solve every problem on the first try. Follow up is a critical part of customer service. When you say you’re going to find out the answer to a question, do it. When you say you’re going to ship out a replacement, make sure they get it. Show the customer you care not just by answering the phone, but by following up to make sure they are better off after you do.

Avoid these mistakes and you will make customers happier. You’ll be more likely to turn them into a loyal customer and advocate, and you’ll avoid the negative reviews that can crush a business in today’s social-driven world.

Market To Mondays – Part 2

Welcome to the latest edition of our new weekly blog series, Market To Mondays. Each week, we will introduce you to a new group of people you should market to. We’ll tell you who they are, why you should market to them, and how you might get started.

Last week’s group was Website Visitors.

Today’s Group = Past Customers

The people who have purchased from you in the past are an ideal audience to market to. Why?

Because you already spent the money it took to get them to buy in the first place. They already know who you are. They already took the risk of buying from a company for the first time. And all you have to do now is get them to come back.

You know the old adage in marketing – it is 5 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to sell to an existing one.

And so, your existing customers are an audience that you should focus on. If you do the right things, it will be the least expensive marketing program you’ve ever put in place.

But how?

It actually starts with the product itself. It has to be a good one. It has to fill a need or solve a problem that the customer has. And it has to do it well.

All the marketing in the world is not going to bring back an unsatisfied customer. So work with your product teams to make sure you are constantly improving the quality of the things that you sell.

Second, approach your customer service department as a friend. After you’ve got a great product, you need great customer service. Nothing kills a relationship with a customer more quickly than poor service. You want your customer service department to be the most helpful, friendliest people on the planet. They make unhappy customers happy. And they make happy customers more loyal.

Once you have the product and service teams on your side, it’s time to figure out the marketing. Three things you should be doing are email, loyalty programs, and community building.

Email is the best way to keep in touch with past customers. When they purchase from you, have them give you their email address. Then send them regular emails with special offers on the products they’re most interested in. And get their feedback through surveys and polls about the product and the service they’ve received.

Loyalty programs are a great way to turn happy customers into returning customers. Regular customers should receive special benefits that new customers don’t get. That could mean lower prices, ancillary products or services, or rewards. When they become “members”, you make it harder for them to choose your competitors in the future.

Community building works with loyalty programs to create an atmosphere of engagement. Using your own site or a social media platform, create a place for customers to interact with your company and each other. This will get them more involved and make them feel like they are a part of your brand. This fosters increased loyalty and can even create brand advocates that will help your marketing efforts.

What group should we cover next? Now accepting submissions for audiences that we will cover in an upcoming “Market To Mondays” post. Submit your ideas via our contact page or in the comments section below

3 Steps to a Better Relationship with Your Customers


For any brand, it’s important to keep customers happy. In today’s world of digital connectivity, an unhappy customer can do more damage than ever before. But at the same time, a happy customer can help you grow faster, by spreading the word and referring many more customers to you.

Too often, customer satisfaction is something no one wants to deal with. If customers are not happy, we blame poor service. If customers are happy, we credit amazing products.

Customer happiness needs to be at the top of everyone’s priority list, no matter what department you’re in. And it’s up to top management to build a culture based around the customer’s happiness.

Here are three steps any company can take to create a better relationship with customers:

1.       Answer their questions.

When they call, pick up. When they email, respond. When they walk in, greet them and see what they’re looking for. When calls and emails go unanswered, when questions get lost in the shuffle, people get irritated. When a customer spends time and money on your products, they expect you to be there if they need you.

2.       Ask them what they want?

Include your customers in future decisions. You can do this with surveys about new products or features. You can talk to your customers in stores and online and ask them for suggestions. You can find out what your competitors are doing that you’re not, and begin to learn more about what your customer is looking for from you.

3.       Ask them what they thought?

Don’t let a purchase be the last interaction your customers have with you. Follow up with them to make sure they got what they expected. See if there is anything else that they need from you. Find out if they have any questions you can answer proactively. This gives you a chance to establish your brand as caring and customer focused, and you can solve any potential problems before they arise.

Not hard, right? These are three simple things any company can implement. But it’s a culture that focuses energies and efforts onto the customer that is needed before change can truly be made to stick.

Free Marketing Ideas Part 15 – Create a Loyalty Plan

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Welcome to the latest edition of my new weekly blog series, “Free Marketing Ideas”. Each week I will identify and explain a simple marketing idea that you can employ at low or no cost. Last week’s topic was Blogger Outreach.

This Week’s Topic = Create a Loyalty Plan

Is it more cost effective to sell to a new customer or an existing one? The answer is always sell to an existing one.

Why? Because they already know who you are, and are hopefully satisfied with their experience.

So one of the most effective free marketing ideas that you can institute is a loyalty plan designed to get your customers to come back and purchase from you time and time again.

How does it work? That’s up to you. The goal should be incentivizing customer loyalty. So, in the future, when a customer has a need that you can meet, they come to you instead of the competition.

There are a number of different ways to accomplish that goal. You can offer discounts to your customer base that you don’t offer to the general public. You can create a membership program that rewards people based on how much they spend with you, such as points redeemable as cash back or that they can put towards other experiences. You can create a customer newsletter that lets your most loyal customers get more insight into new products and plans for your company. You can create a VIP service center only available for “preferred members”.

Anything you can do that makes it easy for people to purchase from you, including upping the ante on product quality and customer service, puts you at an advantage. Because the hard part is already done, they are your customers. Your job is simply to keep them as customers. And it’s easier to do that then replace them with new customers.

Share your thoughts on this idea, and other free marketing ideas in the comments section below and keep the conversation going!