Some brands transcend the products or services they offer. Think Apple, Nike, Virgin, or BMW. We’re not talking about the best performing brands in terms of market share or stock price (although often this is the case). We’re talking about brands that stand for something larger than what they sell. Brands that have become a lifestyle unto themselves. Brands that have become irreplaceable in the mind of the consumer.
This is the pinnacle of brand loyalty: Customers who are willing to pay more for your brand because they see within it a unique value that no other brand can provide. These customers pay more because doing so makes them feel as if they belong to something larger. This type of cult status is increasingly difficult for a brand to attain in an age of endless choices easily vetted by online reviews. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth aiming for. You don’t have to become the next Ikea to attain cult-like brand loyalty. All it takes is doing what you do best—for your best customers.
How do cult-like brands foster the loyalty that makes them legends? Here are 5 secrets to their success:
1. Start With Purpose
Like every other aspect of a successful brand, loyalty begins first and foremost with purpose. You simply cannot cultivate genuine brand loyalty if you don’t have an inspired and well articulated purpose that is powerfully conveyed at every consumer touchpoint. Your brand’s purpose is the answer to the most profound question your organization faces: why? Why do we do what we do? What do we value most? What are we passionate about? What does the world need most that we are uniquely able to provide? These are the questions that should be answered when you speak to your target audience. Don’t tell them about what you do. Tell them about what you believe in. True brand loyalty comes when customers identify with a brand’s purpose and values, not its products or services.
2. Focus Intensely On Your Best Customers
A brand can’t be everything to everyone. The sooner you figure this out, the better off you are. Brands that try to appease the masses ultimately dilute their authentic purpose, promise, and personality. Successful brands take the time to figure out precisely who their ideal customer is. They get to know them inside and out, understanding their needs, challenges, and passions. Then they go to great lengths to give these customers exactly what they want. They go out of their way to make sure their best customers get the best service and enjoy unexpected surprises on a regular basis. The top customers of a successful brand feel valued by that brand. They feel the need to give back to the brand (by purchasing more of its products or services) to repay the brand for all it does for them. They become advocates and ambassadors of the brand to their family and friends, providing free yet invaluable word-of-mouth marketing for the brand via social media and good old-fashioned water cooler chit chat.
3. Figure Out What You Do Best
Giving up the quest to be everything to everyone allows you to step back and decide what you do best as a brand. Figure out the one thing that you do better than anyone else, and focus on doing that one thing to the best of your ability. When Richard Branson decided to take his Virgin brand into the airline industry, he wasn’t concerned with trying to court run-of-the-mill budget travelers. True to the maverick nature of its brand, Virgin went all-in as an edgy, stylish alternative to mainstream providers. They knew precisely the type of customers they needed to target, and offered them a unique suite of amenities unavailable anywhere else in the market. Singular, stand-out value propositions are a much more effective way to differentiate your brand than a collection of vaguely defined advantages you claim to offer over your competitors. These types of highly focused differentiators enable you to truly stand out in the marketplace so that your target audience (i.e., those ideal customers mentioned above) can spot you from a mile away.
4. Deliver on Your Promise
All the purpose and differentiation in the world won’t foment brand loyalty unless you follow through on your brand promise. Your brand promise is an agreement with your customer. That agreement is critical because brand loyalty begins with trust. Customers remain loyal so long as they trust that a brand will make good on its promise. The moment a brand fails to deliver on its promise is the moment its customers begin to lose faith. That said, true brand loyalty, cultivated over years of a trusting relationship, gives a brand a lot of leeway in terms of slipups and gaffes. When Apple releases a new iPhone and a bug is discovered, its loyal customers are pretty patient and forgiving because they trust that Apple will make it right.
5. Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
This should be the final tip for every article we publish. When it comes to brand loyalty (and branding in general), consistency is key. Your messaging should be borne from purpose every time your customers hear it. Your target audience should feel engaged every time they interact with your brand. You should be continually focused on the unique value proposition that makes you the best at what you do. And, of course, you should strive to deliver on your brand’s promise every chance you get. Consistency breeds familiarity, familiarity breeds trust, and trust, as we’ve seen, is where loyalty begins.
Cult-like brand loyalty is pretty cool, but the cool factor isn’t what makes it something to aspire to. Brand equity is directly proportional to brand loyalty. In other words, the more diehard its fan base the more valuable a brand becomes. Plus, it’s far easier to grow the accounts of loyal customers than it is to constantly acquire new ones. Perhaps the most valuable upshot, though, is that brand loyalty gives you more control over how you price your products and services. Loyal customers aren’t tempted by the lower prices of competitor brands. They’re with you till the end, no matter the cost.