I’ve been with a certain service provider for about 20 years now. It’s definitely the longest I’ve ever been with any brand that I can think of off the top of my head. Sometimes you stay because it’s the only game in town (you can likely consider your cable company for this example). Sometimes you stay out of a sense of laziness (are you a Coke person or a Pepsi person?). But I’m not sure if I’d say that I’m staying with them out of ‘loyalty’.
It’s kind of a weird thing to think about: loyalty to a brand.
Don’t get me wrong, I have my favorite brand of vodka (I have two, in fact…one for mixing, and one for martinis), my go-to coffee, and we have an excellent Indian restaurant in our neighborhood where they know us by name. But when I think about things like my airline (I use the one hubbed in Denver, of course), or the brand of car we drive (sure, it’s good, but when we are in the market for a new one, history is only part of the decision-making process), there’s certainly nothing emotional when it comes to what those brands may consider our ‘loyalty’.
When brands think that Customers are loyal to them, I think they’re kind of kidding themselves…especially when they’re trying to do things like make ease-of-use or low-pricing their calling cards. After all, if you’re chasing a segment of the market that’s most interested in saving money when purchasing your goods or services, what do you think is going to happen if someone (anyone!) comes along and underbids you? When your goal is transactional like that, that people choose you is more utilitarian than some sign that they have any affinity for you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that there are brands of gas or paper towels or thumb-drives that strive to be the least-cost competitor. And when I need that lowest cost on a commoditized item like that, I’m all about them. If they’re constantly least priced, I’ll even continue to go there, even if somehow someone else comes along and surreptitiously costs less (until, of course, I’m made aware of it). So there’s definitely incentive (and it makes sense) to keep those costs down if that’s the Brand Promise you’re trying to fill. But don’t sell yourself on that.
When I think of being loyal, I think of my partner, my dog, my family, and friends. Loyalty, in these instances, means that, despite their (or my!) flaws and quirks, we still love each other and are there for one another. That simply doesn’t translate to the business world. You may love your favorite sports team, and don’t get me started on politics (and the ridiculous things some people do out of tribalism and/or obsession over totems and politicians themselves). But if that cell-phone provider keeps dropping your calls but has the temerity to tout its reliability, you have reason to simply bail no matter how much they mean to you nor how long you’ve been with them. On the other hand, of course, if you’re only with them because they’re the lowest-cost provider, your priorities (and mileage) may vary.
But back to my loved ones: Loyalty in those relationships actually means the opposite of what I think happens in the business world. Loyalty to your friends and family means that you stick with them sometimes in spite of their failures (again, just ask my partner!). Nobody’s perfect, so a lot of times we stick with those who are close to us, acknowledging their shortcomings and even failures along the way. And sure, maybe if the brand we usually use fails us from time to time, we can let that slide—especially if they recover well. But usually, you’re with (and stick with) a brand because they satisfy what, in particular, you’re looking for when it comes to the product or service they provide. Whether that’s lower cost or a luxury experience, or high quality or ease-of-use, if you’re thinking about any difference in brands at all, it’s because someone’s met that need you have. Once or twice they fall down on that, and you may let it slide if you’ve been with them a while. But if it becomes clear they’re not living up to their Brand Promise, you’ll find someone else who does. Likewise, even if they are doing well enough, it’d be easy to lure you to another brand if they did it better.
So, this service provider has been letting me down in a few ways lately…cost, ease-of-use, compatibility with what I need. I don’t hate them, and am not getting near that. But I don’t love them either. The things I do like about them are still there and valid. But I’m not loyal to them in the sense that I’d never look for someone else to come through for me in the ways that I need that they’re not meeting. They may look at my long history with them and misinterpret my satisfaction (which is real, although waning sometimes) for loyalty. They may think they’ve got me, but it’s not true. They still have to deliver.