Why Customer Loyalty Matters (And It Absolutely Does!), But Is Often Not Enough


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Businesses, hoping to capitalize on the explosive, potential power of word-of-mouth in their marketing programs, have come to something of an epiphany. The seemingly simple process of people talking to one another about a product or service, a behavior that has been around for as long as humans have lived in civilized communities, is not as easy to manage as they once believed nor, in most cases, has it generated the lofty and consistent results they had expected.

Over the past decade, the concept, and effective execution, of offline and online social (and business-related) word-of-mouth has become extremely important to marketers as, increasingly, b2c and b2b customers have shown distrust, disinterest and disdain for most supplier messages conveyed through traditional media. This has also caused companies to reconsider the role of brand in driving relationships.

Several books have served to raise awareness of such new-age social word-of-mouth marketing components as influencer relations, buzz, viral communication, neural networks, online community, collaboration, consumer generated media (blogs, boards, user forums, online reviews, and direct supplier feedback) and other peer-to-peer dialogue. However, given the availability of techniques such as text mining, analytics, electronic (consumer-generated) content monitoring and harvesting, and downstream behavior analysis, they have barely scratched the surface in defining how to use these techniques, and assess their effectiveness, to achieve and sustain success.

Today, we are witnessing customer-driven marketing through empowerment and self-management; and companies have often found themselves in the back-seat of the new customer-supplier relationships. They are forced to modify existing communication techniques, and/or create new ones, so that they can be positioned to generate brand advocates (and avoid or minimize indifference and sabotage) among their customer bases. How they use, or misuse, these new-age relationships and techniques, how they leverage brand passion and engagement, and how they assess the return-on-customer effectiveness, and level of monetization, of their initiatives will change how social word-of-mouth is pursued by both small and large enterprises.

The false sense of simplicity surrounding the early application of social word-of-mouth techniques has given way to real challenges that businesses must address:

– What is true word-of-mouth vs. artificial word-of-mouth, and why is it essential for marketers to distinguish between the real and engineered version?

– How do marketers actually build plans and position their brands around social word of mouth, run an effective word of mouth program, and track its success?

– Is social word-of-mouth the same in every market or geographic situation; and, if not, what are the key differences for marketers to understand?

– Why is brand relationship, comprised of brand passion and customer advocacy the ultimate attainment of behavior on behalf of a brand or supplier; and, what is customer sabotage and how can it be avoided?

– What kinds of research and metrics are available to monitor the revenue impact of social word of mouth and conjoined brand passion and advocacy behavior among customers?

– How does word-of-mouth compare to recommendation as a downstream behavior lever; and why is the act of recommendation both considerably more complex and less leveraging of customer behavior than originally believed?

– What is necessary to get staff buy-in, and what is the role and effect of employee advocacy and sabotage in word-of-mouth?

– What is the real, likely future of social word-of-mouth marketing?

For many years, marketing practitioners have been focused on creating high customer loyalty. How do you measure it, how do you protect it, and how do you reward customers for their loyal behavior?

What we are coming to understand now is that creating a loyal customer may not be enough to prevent risk and even loss. Customers may say that they are loyal to the brand and say that they will use the brand again; but, given the opportunity, they will often switch with little or no hesitation. We have seen this in industries such as retail, wireless telecom, credit cards, and travel, each of which has spent more than almost any other industry on loyalty tools; however, the switching virus has spread to many other b2b and b2c sectors to the point where it is at pandemic levels.

At the same time, we are seeing a group of brands such as Google, Red Bull, Zappos, Apple, Umpqua Bank, Wegman’s Markets, Amazon, IKEA and Harley-Davidson, each having a dedicated and enthusiastic group of customers who are more than just loyal, they are — brand advocates. Once these select companies have built a critical mass of customer advocates, they enjoy benefits which most brands could only dream of. They get massive social word of mouth exposure, they have lower customer acquisition costs and marketing budgets, have lower CS costs (or none in the case of Google), they can enter new market areas, etc. The most remarkable example of brand advocacy may be Google, which not only doesn’t do any marketing (in the traditional sense) but also doesn’t have any customer service; and, yet, Google still has a large cadre of users who are passionate about their value proposition and have a powerful brand relationship.

Customer loyalty, in and of itself, principally focuses on retaining customers, cross-selling and upselling them, and creating ‘barriers to exit’ in the macro sense. In today’s interconnected world, with active vendor substitution, search-and-switch migration, and high churn rates an everyday reality, traditional approaches to customer behavior and experience management can often fall short.

Advocacy, the highest expression of customer loyalty behavior based on experience, will be the standard for successful brand and corporate performance going forward. And brand relationships, the intersection of brand passion and customer advocacy, has the potential to be even more connected to significant business outcomes.

Business and academic thought leaders have discovered the powerful leverage and impact on marketplace behavior of customer advocacy and brand relationships. Major consulting organizations have led the way regarding application and business outcome of advocacy. In this time of the requirement for extreme marketing budget accountability, we have conducted groundbreaking research and analysis, in multiple business sectors, which absolutely makes the monetizing outcome case for customer advocacy, brand passion, and the linkage which exists between them. Going forward, we will be presenting some of our key results at conferences, in webinars, and in articles and white papers. We hope you’ll be as excited about what we are learning as we are.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


  1. This is an ambitious agenda and one I eagerly await your research results on. In the mean time, I have noticed something puzzling in the social world: people who are brand advocates but who do not actually use the brand. That is, they talk, they tweet, they recommend, but they do not buy. I have been wondering if, at least for some people, the act of talking about it makes it somehow real and satisfies some need for the product.

    What do you think?

  2. The old saying, namely ‘talk is cheap’, can be extended to consumers who claim to be advocates but have no personal experience with the brand product or service. One of the key criteria for an advocate, as we and leading management consulting firms understand the concept, is that the individual must be speaking, positively or negatively, from the standpoint of his or her own experience. So, with respect to customer advocacy, and also what we define as a brand relationship (the confluence, or linkage, of brand passion with customer advocacy), it’s not a stretch to say that brand-related word-of-mouth, i.e. a consumer’s online and offline informal communication about a product or service, is cheap to virtually worthless unless the consumer has personally experienced the brand in question.

    To sum up, no experience = no credibility.

  3. If you are B2B, you might know who your customers are, so you can validate their advocacy messages, but what if you are retail, in which case you don’t really know who the end-user/ buyer is (unless there is some reason the end user has to come back to you, i.e., to register the warranty or download software). How do you assign worth to the message when you don’t know? So much of the tracking software I hear about doesn’t seem to discriminate.

  4. ….through a proprietary, but uncomplicated and straightforward, market research framework, which has been proven in multiple industries and in studies around the world; so, whether b2b or b2c, we are able to absolutely identify if the customer has had actual purchase and usage experience with the brand, product, or service. Again, establishing personal experience is essential. Trying to divine advocacy levels through online text mining and text analytics is an ongoing challenge, in part because what is communicated online represents only a small percentage of the actual word-of-mouth around brands. More important, even through the most sophisticated and technically advanced web analytics algorithms, it’s not possible to precisely attribute communication to those consumers with actual product or service experience.

  5. Dear Mr. Lowenstein, congratulations for your provocative and enlightening article.
    I work with training and team development for customer service facilities in Brazil, and Loyalty is therefore one of my favorite themes.
    The approach that underlies my whole work in this area prioritizes the emotional aspects of customer service.
    It was a natural evolution of my own experience as Hotel Manager for twenty years.
    In the midst of my recente research, to refine my approach, I discovered the work done by Prof. Michael Edwardson, of South Wales University, in Australia.
    According to researchs conducted by him, emotional bonds are the base of loyalty that it is eventually established between customers and companies / brands. You even uses the expression “brand passion”.
    Do you agree with that?
    In the material you will present is there something to that effect?
    Thank you in advance, for your reply.

    Best regards,


  6. Andre –

    Thank you very much for the thoughtful comment. We have developed unique research frameworks for evaluating levels of brand passion (emotional connection, fit, and harmony) and customer advocacy (principally brand affinity, which has some emotional components, and downstream word-of-mouth behavior based on personal experience).

    In recent studies, as indicated in the blog, we have been conjoining, or linking, components of the two frameworks. This has been factor analyzed to see where brand and advocacy similarities and differences occur, and what we are finding are powerful new results which represent what is being defined as ‘brand relationships’. Our key findings indicate that, where business/financial outcomes are concerned, brand relationships are stronger than brand passion, customer advocacy, Net Promoter, satisfaction, or loyalty metrics alone.

    Happy to provide further information, if desired. Regards.



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