IS BRAND LOYALTY DEAD?

Brand loyalty is dead, or at least that’s the conclusion Bobby “Hundreds” Kim, Co-Owner and Creative Director of LA-based streetwear brand The Hundreds, came to in a recent post on instagram. While Bobby Hundreds is a key influencer in the world of street culture and urban fashion, he switched focus to the consumer electronics industry and spoke candidly about his recent experience with one of the world’s most beloved brands, Apple.

In particular, after years of being accustomed to the “sensation of cool design, innovative features, and of course, progressive technology,” his disappointing product experience with both the latest iPad (with retina display) and iPhone 5 resulted in a brand switch to Samsung.

Bobby Hundreds’ experience mirrors that of many customers today (myself included) when brands fail to meet consumer expectations. After 4 years of being a proud BlackBerry brand loyalist, I recently made the switch to Apple due to a repeated decline in product quality standards in Blackberry smartphones.

Up until recently, if anyone told me I would leave BlackBerry for any other brand I would have been hard pressed to believe it, but when even the most beloved brands repeatedly fail to meet consumer expectations they leave us with no choice but to seek out competing brands that at the very least maintain, if not exceed, their promise to customers.

Brand loyalty assumes that people buy from the same company over and over because they believe that company makes superior products (Stuart et al 2006: 142). However, as evidenced by my experience with BlackBerry and that of Bobby Hundreds’ with Apple, once levels of consumer satisfaction fall below acclimated standards, there is very likely to be a change in brand preference.

Brands are facing a new age of fickle consumers who are constantly in search of the next best product or brand experience. As such, the traditional idea of wooing consumers as early as when they’re toddlers, and cementing brand loyalty for a lifetime is hardly an effective or sustainable brand strategy.

Brands owe it to their customers to keep pushing the envelope, always staying a step ahead of expectations, because as a recent Interbrand article on the future of brand building points out, “purchase decisions are becoming more fluid, better informed, and dynamic.” An internal failure to innovate, or simply poor product or brand experience, is a problem that even the best marketing won’t solve.

Brand loyalty isn’t dead, but it’s certainly a concept that needs some rethinking and rekindling. Brands need to give consumers a reason to believe in them; as with any relationship, trust must be earned and maintained. As Seth Godin plainly puts it, what’s needed today is brand humility:

“Brand humility is the only response to a fast-changing and competitive marketplace. The humble brand understands that it needs to re-earn attention, re-earn loyalty and reconnect with its audience as if every day is the first day.”

Despite his earlier remarks, Bobby Hundreds’ comment at the end of his post, particularly about missing his BlackBerry smartphone, actually reveals that brand loyalty can in fact be re-earned, and is quite frankly desired by consumers.

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BRIDGING THE GAP: FASHION AND BRANDING

“A woollen mill doesn’t tell you a herringbone cashmere will cost you £70 per metre one month and £25 a few months later. The button-maker doesn’t tell you “buy one hundred of these, and we’ll throw in fifty of those.” What they make is as good today as the day it was made, and will be just as good a year from now. To pile it high and sell it cheap would be to devalue the product; devalue the raw materials, devalue the labour, the months and months of effort and expertise that has gone into making the finished article.”

Paul Vincent, Co-Founder of menswear brand S.E.H. Kelly, speaks candidly about how pricing affects brand value. The connections between fashion and branding aren’t always clear, but Vincent unintentionally helps to bridge the gap in a recent interview with Well Spenta site dedicated to covering honestly crafted products.

Although he speaks primarily from a managerial perspective for a fashion brand, a lot of his comments also relate to brand strategy across a multitude industries. In an attempt to meet short-term marketing and communication objectives, several brands today often ignore Vincent’s point above about using pricing as a tool to further develop and maintain brand value.

Read the rest of the interview here, where Vincent also talks about the power of selective brand collaborations and online consumer engagement.