BRAND LOYALTY, HOW MUCH DO WE NEED TO LOVE OUR TECH COMPANIES?
Recently I was checking out new cell phone cases. Unsurprisingly, this tech blog writer, platform owner, and designer, was picky about both function and aesthetics. In fact, I checked out the usual Amazon and Apple options, but also perused fashion websites as if they knew the intricacies of hardware just as well as a tech company. I’m a through-and-through Apple loyalist. But spending upwards of $50 on a piece of silicone seems a tad silly. Amazon doesn’t showcase material or manufacturing transparency, and I frankly shy away from giving Bezos any more power (disguised as money) than he already has. The fashion brands were very attractive, but again, it felt a little odd purchasing tech products from clothing companies. What drew attention to this exercise even more was the observation that though I am a firm follower to some brands, the market doesn’t give me a reasonably priced technology company I can trust. Disturbed by how fractional the shopping experience felt, I realized how important it is for buyers to love the mission and brand of the companies they purchase from.
Some sources say that branding started as far back as 4000 BCE. But the majority of online authorities point out how “branding” really picked up around 1500AD, when farmers and distributors physically branded their livestock to keep track of their own assets. Owners’ branded livestock and then in the 19th century began to use their logos on shipping crates for the same notice-of-ownership. By 1900 companies could trademark their logos, phrases, company names, or symbols to differentiate themselves from like-competitors. Big brands like Coca Cola and Ford Motors used these trademarks to advertise feelings in which they wanted to associate. The 20th century’s radio and television technologies meant advertisers could develop brands even more through spoken words, jingles, film, scenes, or even sponsoring entire shows - again relating feelings to their company’s brand. By the 21st century social media added another layer to not just showcase, but interact with customers. Targeting certain demographics, establishing trust, and responding to customers’ unique needs evoked immense brand loyalty across all industries. Today, we’ve become fervent about Coke vs. Pepsi or even MAC vs. PC.
Brands have learned they gain loyal customers if they are relatable. If they can make a personal connection, customers are more devoted to purchasing again and again. A great example is Dove’s recent “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign. Traditionally beauty companies have featured the ideal models or solutions in advertisements, but that’s not always what customers can relate to. In fact, when Dove learned that only 4% of women thought of themselves as beautiful, the company showcased unromantic forms of beauty and encouraged the viewers to join into a conversation about beauty. Relating visually and in discussion to their customers strengthens the “like-minded” connection between both parties. Studies show brands throughout the beauty and fashion industries are systematically trying to create these authentic connections. Entrepreneur.com coaches startups saying there are five emphasized actions to create brand loyalty. The argument notes; stand out, be positive and authentic, create a community and find a way to make customers feel your brand is a part of their identity. The culmination of these strategies means customers feel like they are a part of something bigger; it’s tribalism and can form self identity as well as build confidence. Branding can have pivotal positive impacts on individuals and entire cultures.
Remember Coca Cola’s infamous 1970s Hilltop commercial? Men and Women from multiple races and around the world are shown singing in unison a happy and communicative song. The association between these feelings provokes viewers to feel included and as if they belong amongst the attractive jubilant group. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?! Coca Cola connected their brand with a fundamental human need - the sense of belonging. Apple, another master at making their brand a community, inspired everyone to Think Different in 1997. Still, beyond the Big Tech companies, branding is scarce among tech companies today.
Kate Spade, Tumi, and Pottery Barn all sell tech accessories. Yet it almost feels like McDonalds’ selling T-shirts. Does our devotion to these brands eclipse their knowledge of the actual products they sell? An excellent article from Vulture might point us in one direction. Highlights from brand interactions on Twitter the past decade, show us branding has become intensely interactive with clever jokes and snide responses. Audiences hype when a brands’ “personality” or wit is impressively original. The users gain respect for the brand and over time become loyal customers. It doesn’t matter if the brand is seemingly “off-brand” using tainted language or off-beat messaging. They want to gain authentic respect from their audiences to make deep connections. Still, the trends of consumer product companies becoming more transparent about costs and margins, sustainable, or even open-sourcing their intellectual property, is on the rise. These popularizing movements show us that customers might get a laugh out of advertising on social media, but want honesty and excellence from their brands too. Even The World Economic Forum says, “businesses must serve society and the planet, not just shareholders.” This is of course, not limited to beverage, fast food, or even fashion brands, but technology manufacturers as well. Consumer companies from Everlane to Tesla to Ben & Jerrys are advertising their social responsibility.
In conclusion, brand loyalty has a very long history. From ancient times to the 21st century, branding has developed from claiming your cows, to interacting personally as much as possible with every potential customer on the planet. The intention is to create fundamental connections in order to instill loyalty no matter the cost. Still, branding is in the midst of a transformation. Customers are choosing socially responsible consumer brands over quick wits. These compassionate brands crossover industries, exemplifying how we not only need to relate our consumer brands, we need to want to support them too.