In a sea of competing products and offers, cultivating brand loyalty is the only way to get your customers to commit.
The modern consumer is looking for more than just a good deal—they want brands they can trust. They want brands that consistently provide superior customer care experiences that adapt alongside their changing preferences. Once that trust is secured, businesses can reap the benefits.
If you want to keep your hard-earned customers for the long haul, keep reading. In this article, we’ll delve into the fundamentals of brand loyalty and how to cultivate it. We also gathered three examples of brands that have excelled in fostering loyalty to inspire your own strategy
What is brand loyalty?
Brand loyalty describes a consumer’s inclination to keep choosing a specific brand, even in the face of competitive offers or challenges. This loyalty is often a result of the value a brand offers to its consumers. For example, superior customer experiences drive more loyalty.
In that sense, these brand-consumer bonds are similar to everyday relationships. Think about it: Lasting friendships aren’t formed after a single trip to the movies. Instead, they evolve gradually as two individuals spend more time together.
The same goes for brand loyalty. It develops over time as a brand shows its commitment to customer service and satisfaction.
Brand loyalty vs. brand affinity: What’s the difference?
Brand affinity is the belief that a business aligns with the values or principles of its customers. While brand loyalty refers to the actions consumers take with a specific brand, brand affinity encompasses the emotional ties between consumers and a brand.
So which is more important? The answer is both. Brand affinity drives brand loyalty by forging deeper connections between a brand and its consumers. Similarly, brand loyalty can drive brand affinity through positive word-of-mouth recommendations.
Take Stanley, for instance. Their now famous Adventure Quencher Travel Tumbler achieved viral fame on social media, particularly resonating with Millennial and Gen Z women.
This viral success triggered a chain reaction, leading to both greater brand loyalty and brand affinity. The tumbler transformed into a lifestyle accessory that strongly resonated with specific audiences. This resonance, in turn, fostered loyalty.
Why brand loyalty matters
According to The 2023 State of Social Media Report, the top priority for business leaders in today’s economic environment is building brand reputation and loyalty.
As market competition heats up and consumers become pickier about what they buy, brand loyalty helps ensure that your product or service doesn’t end up on the chopping block. The loyalty of your top customers is what keeps them from being tempted by other offers, acting as a protective shield that prevents competitors from chipping away at your market share.
What are the five characteristics of brand loyalty?
Now that we’ve covered the why, let’s get into the how. A customer’s brand loyalty is made up of five distinct characteristics that inform how they engage with your brand.
Have you ever gone out of your way to get to your favorite coffee shop? It feels silly, but the emotional attachment between a person and their favorite beverage is no joke. It’s your favorite for a reason.
Maybe their service is incredibly consistent, or maybe they nail emotional marketing plays that speak to being cozy and comfortable. Whatever it is, it’s created a personal connection that has fueled a lasting relationship.
Resistance to competition
Brand loyalty makes customers less likely to be swayed by competitive offers because they believe the value your brand offers is greater than anything a competitor can provide.
After several positive experiences with their chosen business, brand loyalists view that brand as more valuable. They’re confident that the brand will consistently meet their needs and offer better quality, which makes them less inclined to explore other options.
The greatest influencers are often our co-workers, family members and friends. That’s what makes positive word-of-mouth recommendations so powerful.
It’s not uncommon for brand loyalists to sing the praises of their preferred business, and their love isn’t restricted to casual conversations either. Digital word-of-mouth recommendations are also common, and can look like:
Tolerance for price changes
Inflation. Supply chain issues. Market headwinds. Price changes are often the outcome of several contributing factors that businesses have little to no control over.
If yesterday’s price simply can’t be today’s price, brand loyalty can be a helpful buffer against price sensitivity. This allows brands to adjust pricing to maintain profitability without losing their most loyal customers.
The four characteristics we’ve covered thus far work together to encourage repeat purchases and customer retention.
Nothing encapsulates this phenomenon quite like the “If I like it, I’ll just grab it in a different color” TikTok trend. After the audio (originally shared by user @justsaraslife) took off on the platform, more than 39,000 people used it to show their dedication to the brands and products that they love.
That’s the power of brand loyalty. It keeps people coming back, even if it’s for the same thing.
How to build brand loyalty that lasts
There are plenty of marketing tactics that companies use to improve brand loyalty, including rewards programs, having a strong brand story, community building and more.
Let’s go in-depth on some of the best ways to build brand loyalty that lasts.
1. Provide best in class customer service
The quality of customer service a brand offers plays a huge role in driving brand loyalty, which is proven to have a significant impact on your bottom line. Research from McKinsey shows that customer experience leaders achieve more than double the revenue growth of customer experience laggards.
Turning your business into a leading brand starts with a well-documented customer service strategy that accounts for your audience’s preferred channels.
For example, if you get a high volume of customer service requests on social media platforms, you should make sure resources are allocated toward monitoring those accounts and responding in a timely manner. You can use a social media tool like Sprout Social’s Smart Inbox to help different team members quickly delegate and assign each social media message as it comes in.
Sprout’s Inbox not only lets you assign tasks to individual team members, but you can also enable approval permissions so that these critical messages are reviewed for brand voice and tone before they’re published.
It’s critical to establish these workflows, no matter who your audience is. Social media interactions are entirely public facing, meaning their impacts extend beyond the individual who requested support. Acknowledging your customers on social media—whether they’re giving praise or feedback—builds trust, and in turn, brand loyalty.
2. Find your brand voice and story
Create a unique voice that represents your brand and makes it feel approachable to people in your audience. Maintaining a consistent brand voice across all channels will make your brand more recognizable and memorable.
Fitness apparel and accessories brand Gymshark does this by taking a more informal approach to their social content. Instead of creating like a brand, they post like fitness content creator.
Their relatable memes and jokes do more than just get a chuckle out of their target audience. They help to humanize the brand by establishing a unique personality across different platforms. This personality creates emotional connections based on feelings of happiness, support and shared interests.
3. Use rewards programs
If you want to incentivize your audience to return to your website or shop with you again, a great strategy is to create a rewards or loyalty program. These programs typically offer discounts or coupons to repeat shoppers. Brands that give extra perks to their loyal customers can encourage more and larger sales down the line.
Starbucks has virtually gamified its rewards program in a way that makes its customers excited to use it. The Starbucks Rewards Card and app make it easy for customers to get their Starbucks order and collect perks along the way.
Starbucks also rewards people who aren’t necessarily repeat customers. Their birthday rewards and different holiday promotions are ways to spread awareness among less frequent customers and incentivize future visits with discounts and free items. They use social media to promote their rewards program and get new customers in the door.
Starbucks is an example of taking a rewards program to the next level with its extensive app, but even a punch card towards a free item or a discount will encourage repeat customers. Use social media to raise awareness on the value of your in-store programs, so customers know it’s available.
4. Build a brand community
As more people turn to digital spaces for connection and conversation, brand communities present a major opportunity for businesses looking to cultivate loyalty.
The rise of community platforms and vertical social networks call back to a time where the internet was solely for connection and conversation. People ask questions, provide feedback, cheer each other on—it’s behavior that’s unique to what you’d find on your main feed.
Brands that create their own communities can unite their fans to benefit from this high-quality engagement.
To see what this looks like in practice, check out Sephora’s Beauty Insider community. Every day, thousands of makeup fanatics turn to their fellow Beauty Insiders for advice, recommendations and more. Community groups (like “Nailed It” and “Best Hair Ever”) allow community members to dive deeper into specific interests with other knowledgeable shoppers. It’s a place where questions are answered and friendships are forged.
All this activity creates a win-win scenario for Sephora and its customers. Customers receive round-the-clock advice and support from fellow fans, and Sephora gets a never-ending well of customer insights and feedback.
5. Use social media insights to keep up with your customer preferences
On social, brands can use clever combinations of copy and visuals to dive deeper into every facet of their brand identity. The channel is unparalleled in its near-constant opportunities to humanize your brand.
To put it simply, social is where your brand comes to life.
Using social media to build brand loyalty means telling a story worth your audience’s investment. It’s not enough to share product releases and business announcements. You need to hone in on what resonates with your target audience, and deliver on that message as creatively as you can.
Gas and grocery chain Casey’s stays in lockstep with customer interests by using Sprout Social’s Post Performance Report to analyze content performance at a granular level. Sprout’s analytics tools help the Casey’s social team identify trends in content performance, so they can create content that resonates with audiences across their 16 states of operation.
Brands can replicate this approach by crafting a data-driven social media marketing strategy that prioritizes both quantitative and qualitative customer feedback. Test new messaging and creative assets often. Your findings can ensure that your brand continues to appeal to new audiences while maintaining and cultivating greater loyalty with existing customers.
3 brand loyalty examples to inspire your approach
It’s easy to see when a company is getting brand loyalty right. After all, their satisfied customers are often the first to sing their praises through rave reviews and repeat purchases. If you want to add your brand to those ranks, here are three lessons from businesses that excel in cultivating brand loyalty.
1. Le Creuset
How much bakeware could one person possibly need? To Le Creuset fan, the limit does not exist.
For nearly 100 years, the French kitchenware brand has been a mainstay for chefs and home cooks alike. Obtaining your first Le Creuset Dutch oven is a momentous occasion for many, but it doesn’t stop there. Fans continuously flock to seasonal releases, hoping to get their hands on the latest and greatest in enamel-covered dishes.
So what makes these dishes so special? Quality aside, the brand taps into its audience’s emotional needs.
The art of cooking is already deeply rooted in care and connection, giving Le Creuset an easy in to their audiences hearts and minds. Layer in their reputation for reliability along with some cozy visuals of simmering pots and delicious meals, and you get a diehard fan base of brand loyalists.
Takeaway: How do you want your brand to make people feel? Zeroing in on the emotional pull of your brand and product can set the foundation for future, long-term brand loyalty.
2. Marks & Spencer
How do you reinvent a brand that’s more than a century old? That’s the question Marks & Spencer, a UK-based retailer specializing in clothing, beauty and home products, had to answer in 2019 after dropping from the FTSE 100 for the first time since the city share’s index began in 1984.
Fast forward to today and you’ll see a company back on the up, largely due to an omnichannel customer experience strategy that creates cohesion across its many offerings.
To bring the brand into the digital age, Marks & Spencer introduced an app-based loyalty program in 2022. The program, called Sparks, treats loyal customers to gifts, prizes, personalized offers, charitable donations and more.
Source: Marks & Spencer
The M&S team came up with these benefits by listening to audience feedback and experimenting with incentives to get them in-store—and so far, it’s working. More than 4.3 million active users turn to the Sparks app to stay connected with the retailer.
Takeaway: Boost your brand loyalty by creating a customized program that matches your audience’s interests and desires. When you actively connect with your customers, you’ll uncover ways to strengthen loyalty that go beyond occasional discounts.
Brand loyalty isn’t exclusive to B2C brands, and Slack proves it.
Over 100,000 organizations use the business messaging tool to connect their workforce, and professionals across industries swear by it. While the product itself is impressive, what truly sets the company apart for many fans is its unique voice and tone.
Slack seizes every opportunity to reinforce its brand’s distinctive voice. When you interact with them online, they come across as your favorite coworker—friendly, smart and genuinely human. According to their brand microsite, their voice is at the core of their brand identity, and they approach everything with genuine warmth and care, even their app release notes.
These small, thoughtful touches surprise and delight their audience, making the Slack brand feel more relatable and earning them even more loyalty.
Takeaway: If you want to build meaningful connections with your loyal customers, ditch the business speak in favor of what sounds real and relatable. Root your approach in customer-centricity and refine as you go.
Tap into the power of brand loyalty
Turning your customers into loyal advocates isn’t about fancy marketing gimmicks or viral campaigns. It’s about reinforcing the core strengths of your business and reliably offering excellent products and services. When you earn your customer’s trust, their loyalty is sure to follow.
As your loyal customer base expands, you’ll naturally build a broad network of brand advocates who can help spread the word about your brand, bringing in a fresh wave of customers. And if you’re aiming for even greater success, consider diving into brand advocacy. Your business’s biggest fans might just be your key to unlocking new revenue opportunities.