Saturday, September 23, 2006

Brand Loyal

As marketing professionals, we’re all concerned with keeping our customers brand-loyal. Good customers buy more stuff. They act as references. They know you, and – here’s hoping – like you.

But we all keep hearing that brand loyalty is a thing of the past. That what matters most is cost. Or novelty. Or both.

What’s a marketer to do?

I don’t have any easy answers. But I thought I’d start with just what makes me brand loyal. As it turns out, a lot of my brand loyalty on the consumer goods side is pretty deeply rooted. I use Tide, Scott’s Toilet Tissue, and Geisha Tuna (solid white) because that’s what my mother bought. If I could find them, I’d still buy Dailey’s Kosher Dills. (I haven’t stayed 100 percent brand loyal to the “House of Liz.” I buy Teddy peanut butter, not Peter Pan. Progresso, not Campbell’s. DeCecco, not Mueller’s. But having made those switches, I stick with them.)

I guess I’m a pretty loyal kind of guy.

Loyal to the home town team (Red Sox), despite it all. Loyal to Talbot’s and LL Bean. (And, no, I am NOT a frowzy, middle-aged dud, thank you. I buy Eileen Fisher when I can find it on sale.)

I’m loyal to certain authors. (William Trevor and Alice Munro lead that pack). I’ve read to the same magazines since I was in high school. (Atlantic Monthly, New Yorker.)

Given all of the above, I’d say that I like what I like and my tastes don’t change all that often or dramatically. And whether my likes are inherited or acquired, once I like something, I feel no need to switch.

With a few exceptions (baseball), I do add brands all the time, however. Generally, it’s when the new brands are like something I already like. I’ve stuck with Judy Collins and Tom Rush since grammar school, but I’ve added Richard Shindell and Mary Black.

Again, once I like something, as long as it stays consistently - well, likeable - I’m brand loyal. (Again, there are a few exceptions like baseball,where I stay consistent even when “the product” isn’t all that consistently likeable. Red Sox, August 2006.)

Technology is another story altogether.

Over the years I’ve had PC’s and/or laptops from IBM, Dell, Gateway, Toshiba, Dell, HP/Compaq, and -are you ready - Leading Edge. Is the laptop I’m working on an HP or a Dell? I have to look down and check. It’s HP.

I’ve got an LG cell, a Palm Pilot PDA, and a Linksys router, but the only brand here that I’d consciously repeat is Linksys. That’s because, once I got it working, the router works just fine. But mostly it’s because I’ve been pretty happy with their customer support.

I’ve lost track of all the Internet access providers and/or e-mail addresses I’ve been through. But I like my current one (Comcast) well-enough. And I’ve been pretty happy with their customer support. I was having problem with attachment and used their online help. The real-time interactive help was useless. (It reminded me of the “conversations” we all had twenty-five years ago with “Liza” on the mainframe computer. ME: “Hi, Liza, what’s the weather like?” LIZA: “Why do you ask?” The guys in the office always had slightly racier chats with Liza.) Anyway, after a brief fling I gave up on interactive and used e-mail, which worked brilliantly. A real person stuck with it until we solved the problem (or at least found a still-working workaround.)

(We actually have two ISP’s in our house. My husband hasn’t managed to pull himself off of AOL because he’s been happy with their customer support.)

Hmmmmm. I think I’m having an “aha” moment here. The technology brands I like are the ones where I’ve liked the service. Maybe if I hadn’t had to use Linksys customer service to begin with, I’d be brand indifferent when I go to buy my next router. But I did have to use the service, and it was pretty darned good. So I’d be benevolently disposed toward Linksys. (But maybe not if they started using the Cisco name, since I have no experience with Cisco support.)

So it looks like I’m getting an answer here. For technology products - where the baseline features are all just about the same; where the exotic, differentiating bells-and-whistles features don’t matter to the purchaser (i.e., the purchaser is not early adopter, but in the next wave); and where rock-bottom price is not a driving force - the product better have reasonable quality and VERY GOOD customer service if you want your customers to come back.

No comments: