Frayed emotions when it comes to brands

This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Twist Image and author of “Six Pixels of Separation.” His new book “CTRL ALT Delete” was released in May 2013. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

Are we at the end of brand loyalty?

First, let’s be clear: I am not talking about loyalty or rewards programs. Those work. They work well. They’re going to continue to work. If a consumer is already shopping with you, and you’re doing you’re best to encourage them to keep shopping with you through rewards and relevant offers, you’re going to see that basket bump in a more positive direction.

I’m talking about the raw emotions and connections that some of the smartest advertisers claim that their work can create, foster, and nurture. There is this line of thinking: to get consumers to be loyal, you must have them fall in love with a brand. Is that a myth?

How many brands do you love… really, really love?

Take into consideration this news item from Marketing Charts: “Almost Half of US Consumers Emotionally Indifferent to Brands.” You may think that there’s nothing more discuss after simply reading that headline, but diving into this piece of research (where 6,500 consumers were questioned), you can glean some interesting insights into just how loyal and caring people are with the brands that they choose.

“Consumers in the US are among the most emotionally distant from brands, per recent survey results from Momentum Worldwide. The study asked more than 6,500 consumers in nine developed and emerging markets around the world to classify their feelings about well-known brands in interpersonal terms.

Some 45% of US respondents classified their relationships with brands as no more than an acquaintance, with one-fifth of those (or almost 1 in 10 overall) categorizing brands as their ‘enemy’ or ‘arch rival.’ Those results bring to mind research released late last year by Edelman Berland in which consumers claimed that brands were doing a poor job of connecting with them.”

Are brands really to blame?

It’s easy to look at these pieces of research and think that consumers are either bored or nonchalant about the brands that they buy. I don’t believe this to be the case. I’m willing to bet that what’s happening is the natural evolution of business in this age of connectedness. Most products and services are of quality. It’s not like the old days when the advertising was a hype engine for a lemon of a product.

Online reviews and the ability to have such a profound direct relationship with consumers has put brands on notice. With that, consumers can find, buy, and connect to products and services from anywhere in the world. The mass amount of brands, products lines, and options are, literally, endless.

So, in a world where you can basically have anything that you want, in any size, in any color, and customize it with ease, perhaps consumers don’t feel the need to be loyal simply because there’s always something relatively similar right around the corner? It may, in fact, be that consumers don’t need brands to connect all that much with them and that they’re emotionally indifferent, because of choice and access. People just don’t have to think all that much about it anymore.

What’s your take? Do you think that brands are doing less to connect with consumers in a powerful way, or that consumers simply don’t need that kind of relationship in this day and age?


About Mitch Joel

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum — an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. He is also a blogger, podcaster, journalist, speaker, and the author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and "CTRL ALT Delete." Mitch is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Profit, Strategy, Money, The Globe & Mail, and many other media outlets.

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  1. Ryan Karpeles

    I think “brand loyalty” has faded into the background and been replaced with something much more weighty and vital to consumers these days: social value.

    In other words, if people see their friends/family/coworkers buying something or recommending something, they’re far more likely to get that product – as opposed to sticking with their own personal loyalty to a brand.

    Buying decisions aren’t being made in a personal vacuum any more. They’re community decisions – even if the buyer never talks to their peers about it. They’re still purchasing things based on what others have done, and what others will think of their purchase.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Thanks for writing this,


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