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The Brand Loyalty Illusion

Jamie Allebach
Jamie Allebach Chief Executive & Creative Officer

“I vow to remain faithful to your brand…” said no consumer ever.

The great brand loyalty debate has been raging amongst CPG food marketers for years. Many modern marketers are suggesting that consumers are no longer brand loyal; they’re ready to throw in with a cheaper private label or a flashy, emerging brand at a moment’s notice. And while this may be true, I’d argue that it’s certainly not new. “Brand Loyalty” has always been more fiction than fact — a buzzwordy, mythological pipe dream that overzealous marketers sell to their clients.

I’m sorry you have to find out like this, but consumers don’t actually “love” your brand. They may “love” your product, but in all reality it’s probably closer to “like” than it is to “love.” To be frank, a more accurate way to characterize your brand’s relationship with the consumer is that your brand is simply a buying habit.

Which is great! If your food or beverage brand has worked its way into a consumer’s routine or habitual buying pattern, you’re winning the marketing game. Your goal should be to get more habitual buyers, not strive to create brand loyalists or sell more product to existing customers.

I know, I know… as a creative food marketing guy, I should be telling you to build a “relationship” with consumers, to nurture a deep and meaningful bond with your customers and brand “loyalists.” I should be recommending a “persona” that humanizes your brand and connects emotionally with consumers because if they love you, they will be faithful to you, right?

Again, sorry, but no. It’s a rarity for consumers to bond with brands like they do with other humans. And, unlike the deep emotional drive that we have for each other, our relationship to brands is largely transactional—not emotional.

So, how do you keep consumers coming back for more? Simple. It comes down to two things:

  • Top of Mind Awareness
  • Availability

You need to continually remind consumers, through great advertising, how much they want your product. Continue to give them reasons to buy. Be entertaining. Be disruptive and memorable. Make them hungry. But most importantly, be available. Be on-shelf where they are shopping. If they can’t quickly and easily find you, they will replace you.

Consumers are fickle. Regardless of whether they love or like your product at any given moment depends on a number of variables, but if your brand isn’t top of mind and on-shelf, you’re all but guaranteeing that they spend their dollars elsewhere. The more consumers notice, recognize, and remember your product on their path to purchase, the more likely they are to buy, and continue buying.

For marketers, brand managers, and business owners who spend years building and refining their brands, letting go of the Brand Loyalty Illusion can be difficult, but the sooner you accept the hard limits of consumer loyalty, the sooner you can start building a winning strategy.

Remember: it’s good to be liked, but it’s better to be bought.

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