What does brand loyalty mean to customers?

There is much being debated around the topic of the Millennial consumer these days, particularly around the topic of loyalty and the argument that they have a higher propensity to be loyal to brands. But what does it mean to be loyal to a brand and how is it being measured across generations? And, most importantly, what are the consumer’s perspectives on the matter? We sought to answer some of these questions by surveying 1071 people in the UK and asked them the following question: “What does brand loyalty mean to you?”.

Across all generations, the themes that were pulled out relate brand trust, customer experience, and being rewarded. It shows that customers regard loyalty as a two-way relationship; that their behaviour and commitment must be recognised and rewarded and that the brand must deliver on it’s promise and provide a satisfactory experience for that customer.  

Source: Results based on analysis of open box answers to: “What does brand loyalty mean to you?” N=1,071

Source: Results based on analysis of open box answers to: “What does brand loyalty mean to you?” N=1,071

The research goes on to further explore these topics by asking consumers about the what drives their decision to continue to buy from one brand over another, and how they feel about the brands to which they are most loyal. The findings indicate that when it comes to general purchase decisions, the biggest influencing factors (as expected) are price, quality and convenience. However, when we look at the factors which drive loyalty, the picture is quite different.

When we asked consumers to name a brand to which they were loyal (or “would always buy from, if given a choice”) we saw the following brands come out on top:

Source: Q13: When thinking about (answer from Q12) to what extent do you agree with each of the following? (Strongly/Somewhat agree) N=1,071

Source: Q13: When thinking about (answer from Q12) to what extent do you agree with each of the following? (Strongly/Somewhat agree) N=1,071

So why is it that these brands are so successful in engendering loyalty? With a mission statement of “To be the Earth's most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online”, it’s not too surprising to Amazon at the top of the list, with over 6% of all respondents naming them (unprompted) as a brand they will always buy from, if given a choice.

When consumers were asked if the named brand was one of their favourite brands, over 90% said yes, which would validate the existence of an emotional response towards those brands and that loyal behaviour is not simply based on functional attributes.

But what drives that positive relationship? The study found the following three factors as being the most influential in driving loyalty:

  1. Brand Likeability (“I like the brand”) - 85.6% strongly / somewhat agree
  2. Product Quality (“It has the best quality products / services”) - 82.8% strongly / somewhat agree
  3. Brand Trust (“It will deliver on it’s promise”) - 82.7% strongly / somewhat agree
Drivers of customer loyalty

Likeability, being the most influential, presents some very useful insight. It shows us that there is a attitudinal antidote to brand switching. The concept of brand likeability has emerged in research from the terminology of ‘brand love’ (Batra, Ahuvia, and Bagozzi, 2012). It is the perception of brands that helps us to develop an emotional connection. Or in other words, you have to like a brand to love a brand, and it is therefore fundamental to true loyalty. Likeability is driven by the personality of the brand (the brand image) and the extent to which this resonates, or creates a positive emotional reaction, with the individual. It is our hedonic motivation towards the brand and confirms that loyalty is largely driven by the pleasure we get from that relationship, and not the functional or utilitarian benefits.

This paints a very different picture to the typical drivers we hear in ‘customer loyalty’ conversations today, where emphasis on points, personalisation and prizes tend to take center stage. While these mechanics and offers are still important in providing ‘extra value’, we believe that the fundamentals of brand love, trust and customer satisfaction must be firmly in place and understood for these benefits to obtain any real value to the customer.

To understand more about the drivers to loyalty and to see our framework for developing loyalty, download our full research paper.