Remember the days when your mom or dad, or grandma or grandpa, would buy only one type of cheese, or a specific cleaning product, or just one brand of socks?
People used to find a brand they liked and then stick to it, seemingly no matter what.
Well, those days are all but over.
Brand loyalty is not what it used to be.
Nowadays, fuelled by the prominence of online shopping, people switch between brands in the blink of an eye, usually when they find something that is higher-quality or a better deal.
So, what does that mean for businesses today that are trying to build a brand and then get people to commit to it?
It means it is a lot tougher than it used to be.
However, it does not mean that it is impossible.
To build brand loyalty in today's fast-paced, ever-changing marketplace, you simply (or not so simply, as it will require a dedicated effort) need to use different strategies for building loyalty to your brand.
Gone are the days of wearing Beautymist pantyhose just because Broadway Joe wears them.
You need to go above and beyond this somewhat surface-level attempt at attracting people to your brand so that you can get them to commit to you and your company even when they are being courted by countless other companies offering similar products or services.
It starts with you.
You must have clear branding objectives.
However, there are also some other things you need to be focusing on to help build your brand loyalty.
Let's take a look at what those are.
What is brand loyalty and its value?
Before we go too far, let's take a moment to remember exactly what brand loyalty means.
It can be nicely summed up as a mutual trust between buyer and seller.
Because of the way your company does business, customers will be more likely to purchase from you rather than competitors.
It is also a relationship that goes beyond just price points.
Sure, you must remain competitive, but customers may be willing to pay a little extra to do business with you because they trust you and believe in what you do.
This, in turn, allows your business to count on a certain level of revenue.
Because you know people will come back, you can expect a specific cash flow which you can then use to reinvest into growth areas.
Having strong brand loyalty also changes the way you pursue leads.
If you know that converting someone into a customer will mean they will be your customer for the foreseeable future, you may be willing to invest more in generating new sales leads.
Strong brand loyalty also has another perk that perhaps you have not considered before: it increases the value of your business.
There may come a time when you decide to sell your business, and if you do, investors will be far more eager to pay a higher price for a company with strong brand loyalty.
Again, this may not be on your mind now, but you never know where your business will be at a few years down the road.
Building brand loyalty pays dividends both now and in the future.
Now let's get the secrets of making this happen.
1 – Uniqueness
This one is pretty straightforward, but that does not make it any less important.
For people to come back to your business over and over again, they need to feel like they are getting something they cannot get elsewhere.
This is why discounting is not the right way to build loyalty.
People can get discounts anywhere.
To get across to customers what it is that makes you unique; you need to determine the value your company offers that is different from the competition.
Maybe you have the best rewards program?
Alternatively, you offer a money-back guarantee or warranty?
Maybe it is your customer service?
Whatever it is, your branding strategy needs to reflect this differentiating factor, and everything you do needs to highlight this uniqueness.
Otherwise, you will end up blending into the crowd and losing customers to the competition.
2 – Consistency
Why is it that people travel all over the world to experience new cultures and customs and still eat at McDonald's, Burger King and The Hard Rock Café?
Is it because their food is just so much better it is not worth it to try the local fare? No!
It is because people know what they are going to get.
People are loyal to brands that don't throw them unwanted surprises.
They are coming to you for a reason, and if you drift away from that reason, you are stripping away a key factor that goes into the decision to do business with you.
However, staying consistent doesn't mean always doing the same thing.
It comes back to defining your branding objectives and strategy.
Whenever you do something different, it needs to reflect the brand.
The Hard Rock Café has built its brand on offering an excellent cheeseburger and an exciting atmosphere anywhere in the world.
They may change up the menu a bit or bring in some new decorations, but they will never stray from this core feature of their brand identity—they know this would cost them some of the brand loyalty they have built up over the years.
Do some research.
Find out what it is that brings people back to you, and then make that the central focus of your branding strategy.
Don't be afraid to be bold, but don't lose sight of who you are.
3 – Responsiveness
Responsiveness can be broken down into two categories: engagement and feedback.
Both represent a willingness to include your customers in some of the decisions you make as a company, so they feel like they matter.
The common thread between the two is to use the channels of communication most relevant to your audience.
If they prefer to communicate through Facebook, do not send them emails. And, vice versa.
Be in tune with how your customers like to talk to companies, and use these mediums to respond to what they have to say.
4 – Engagement
This is a big buzzword in the marketing world.
However, what exactly is engagement?
In a sense, engagement is a feeling of community.
You want people to feel like they belong to something when they interact with your company.
No one wants to feel like just another number.
The classic way of how to not engage customers is using automated customer service lines.
How many times have you called a big company and been sent jumping through hoops pressing 5 or 2 over and over again?
It is infuriating, isn't it?
Also, it makes you feel like you do not matter.
In these situations, many of us do not have an alternative, so these companies do not have loyal customer bases, but somewhat dependent ones.
As a small business, you do not want this.
There is too much competition out there for you to think that people depend on your business.
They are choosing you.
Engage with them and reward them for making this choice.
Other things you can do is to keep a blog.
By providing information that is relevant and helpful to your target audience, and then by allowing them to contribute to what you are saying, you will create that sense of community.
You want people to feel that they need you and you need them.
That is how you will get loyal customers.
5 – Feedback
The other side of responsiveness is feedback.
People like to be listened to.
No one wants to think their comments, questions or complaints are just being ignored.
Moreover, if you do this as a business, you can expect people to drop you quickly and find somewhere else to spend their money.
Having ways for people to reach out to you, e.g. an email submission form, comments sections on posts and pages, a phone number, a Facebook page, and then responding to them when they do, will put a face to your business.
However, just as importantly, you need to respond to people when they reach out.
So this does not just mean acknowledging what they have to say.
It also means taking action.
If someone is unhappy about something for one reason or another, you need to take measures to help remedy this.
If you do, you can bet they will be more inclined to come back to you.
However, if you do not, you can kiss their business goodbye.
6 – Personalisation
Last, but certainly not least, is personalisation.
Also, 51 percent say they are more loyal to businesses that offer them small tokens of affection, such as personalised discounts.
In today's world, people not only don't expect to be treated like everyone else, but they also seem to dislike it downright.
While it may be an extra expense for your company to give customers the chance to tailor their products or services, the returns when it comes to loyalty may be too large to overlook.
Plus, offering more personalised products or services allows you to stay more competitive.
Perhaps you cannot keep up with the competition on prices, but if you can offer people a way to make what they buy their own, they will be willing to pay a higher price, and they will become more loyal to your brand because of it.
So that is it.
That is the secret to creating brand loyalty.
In reality, there aren't many secrets about it.
The important thing is to be honest about what you are or would like to be as a brand, and then you need to follow through with strategies that will make this apparent to your customers.
Do this, and you will find people coming to do business with you again, again and again!
Author Bio: Jock is an entrepreneur and the founder of Digital Exits, which specialises in the appraisal and buying/selling of online businesses. He got his start in online marketing but eventually switched over to brand consulting. His primary goal has always been to help other entrepreneurs find success doing what they love.