Here is a different twist on brand connections or how to build brand loyalty. Take a look. Common sense answers to a major question all of us must answer in our marketing roles. Mr. Gentle looks at loyalty at three different points in building that loyalty factor with your brand. It is a very interesting perspective as buyers evolve from making the buying decision to becoming highly loyal brand followers and endorsers. Often we talk about the connection as building a lifestyle connection which drives a consumer to build a stronger brand loyalty. It is about connecting with that consumer in very personal and direct ways, and delivering on that promise.
Hand, Head, Heart: The 3 Stages Of Customer Loyalty
by T.J. Gentle
President & CEO
The key to improving lifetime customer value is customer loyalty–that’s nothing new. Strategies and tactics for building loyalty have been studied, refined, and evaluated since the beginning of business itself.
- The weakest form of loyalty, hand loyalty doesn’t have to be earned; it can be purchased.
- Head loyalty must be earned by providing a worthwhile value proposition.
- Heart-loyal customers will not consider alternative brands, even when they are superior.
When we refer to loyalty from a business perspective, we are really talking about a customer selecting a product or service over the competition without a thorough competitive analysis of the alternatives. For example, more than 90 percent of Apple customers plan to purchase the new iPhone when it’s time for a new phone, according to aYankee Group study, without ever analyzing its features and specifications and comparing it to an Android or Windows device. Their passion for Apple supersedes a willingness to even consider alternatives.
This deep-from-the-heart type of loyalty is not only the most valuable as it pertains to business, but, as you may expect, it is also the most difficult to achieve, whether you run marketing for a traditional brick-and-mortar or an e-commerce retailer. Heart loyalty is won over time through the day in and day out consistent delivery of what you promise–every single time.
Still, before the heart are two other types of loyalty to consider. Customers can transition through the different forms of loyalty, and each step has a significant value to business.
1. Hand Loyalty: Hand loyalty, the easiest to achieve, is based on how convenient a product is to the customer at the point in which he is in need and already making a purchase. A perfect example of this is an impulse buy. If a customer realizes he needs batteries while checking out and purchases whatever is readily available in the checkout aisle, this is hand loyalty. With no particular loyalties or time researching the longest life or best value, he has made a convenience “at hand” buy.
The weakest form of loyalty, hand loyalty doesn’t have to be earned; it can be purchased. Brands pay money for the most attractive shelf space in brick-and-mortar stores, and it also can be purchased on the Internet through keywords and SEO campaigns. When customers purchase products from the first site that a search returns without seriously looking at others, or through add-on products during checkout, that’s the digital version of hand loyalty.
2. Head Loyalty: The next level of value in the loyalty spectrum is head loyalty. This is when customers take the time to research competing products and make purchase decisions based on a logical assessment of the options available. Common in the world of electronics and gadgets, purchases are often driven by feature specs and cost-benefit analysis. Head loyalty is defined by a customer making a purchase decision on the product with the most benefits or best features for the most attractive price.
More valuable than hand loyalty, head loyalty must be earned by providing a worthwhile value proposition. However, head-loyal customers are still likely to jump to another provider or brand should a better option arise. Combined with hand-loyalty tactics, tools to gain head loyalty on the Internet include listings on comparison engines and review sites, where customers can learn the most about you and your products.
3. Heart Loyalty: Extremely valuable, yet incredibly elusive, heart loyalty can happen when brands connect with customers on such an emotional level that competition all but ceases to exist for the fan base. Heart-loyal customers will not consider alternative brands, even when they are superior. The earlier example involving Apple is a textbook example of how a brand can turn customers into zealots. Harley-Davidson is another example of a company that has achieved a large heart-loyal customer base. Can you imagine a Harley fan riding anything other than his beloved hog?
As its name implies, heart loyalty cannot be purchased or easily earned–it is won over time, by getting it right, each and every time, delivering what you promise when you say you are going to do it, and creating a deep emotional connection with your customers.
Loyalty Through Personalized Experiences
No fast track to true customer loyalty exists. No matter how many resources are thrown at business plans or marketing strategies, it is unreasonable to expect to be able to skip hand and head loyalty and arrive directly at heart loyalty. Instead, reaching the heart is based on repeatedly exceeding expectations again and again, without ever falling short.
One tactic for doing so is through a process known as prescriptive personalization. It is not enough to simply offer a personalized experience or “you may also like” recommendations. As the name implies, prescriptive personalization is based on individual customer preferences, shopping habits, and a solution prescribed by the retailer for that individual customer. Requiring a granular understanding of customers, coupled with an encyclopedic knowledge of products offered, savvy retailers can combine intrinsic data and explicit customer preferences with comprehensive product knowledge through algorithms to prescribe a specific Web experience that is engaging to each individual customer.
Of course, building heart loyalty also requires passion, consistently delivering on your brand promise, and the removal of technological barriers between providers and customers. Though more difficult to achieve in the digital space, it is possible to create a deep, personal connection with customers. Retailers that are able to leverage all the benefits of technology and big data to create a more intuitive experience for customers will be on the path to establishing meaningful connections with customers–and just maybe a little heart loyalty.