Brand fans love you, passionately, and tell everyone they can. They know your founding story, use social media to tell others, and feel deeply hurt if you disappoint them. MBA class case studies love to tell stories of intense brand loyalty. Think Harley Davidson.
But sometimes Brand Fanatics keep a brand stuck and on the defensive. While few will admit it, there are times when you may need to look beyond those most glued to your brand. Here are some clues:
1. Your marketing team thinks that all of your buyers are Brand Fanatics.
I’ve worked with some brands over the years that were astonished to learn that not all of their buyers met the description of those loyalists they had encountered in pre-research days. It was a big change of mindset to learn that many of their buyers didn’t really think about their brand all that often.
2. You ignore your marketing research because, surely, your buyers aren’t so….mainstream.
Especially in companies that pride themselves as being environmentally friendly, nutritionally ahead of the curve or quirky and non-mainstream, research can be a bit of a letdown. It’s important for a brand to learn about the variety in their current buyers, the ignorance of their prospects and sometimes even antipathy in the marketplace. An open mind can keep innovation and marketing efforts real.
3. You need to evolve your brand and your Fanatics won’t let you.
As Bubba at Quality Logo Products writes, “Members of a brand fandom feel a personal connection to their product of choice, and can become quite emotionally invested in it. These strong feelings mean that they may not take changes in the product or company particularly well, perhaps even feeling personally betrayed by their brand.”
4. You try an innovative brand extension and get tiny numbers of people making tons of negative noise.
Brand fanatics feel that the brand is an extension of their inner selves. They may rely on your brand to bolster feelings of confidence and specialness. Make sure you listen but don’t cater exclusively to your inner circle of buyers when making strategic decisions to extend your brand and launch new products.
5. You spend 98% of your customer relations time appeasing them.
When the 80/20 rule morphs into something far less equitable, it may be a sign that you need to place more focus on the rest of your buyers (who are probably far less whiny). Encouraging brand loyalty sometimes necessitates setting boundaries. As long as you make sure you are offering true quality, your service levels are high and pricing is keeping pace with the competition, you may want to do more outbound research and not place as much of your resources in listening to the complainers, or even to the dazzled.
6. You suspect that they only want you for your…discounts.
Brand loyalty programs tend to reward people for their continued purchases with discounts, coupons and freebies. While these may in fact be incentives for buyers to stay with a brand, people most incentivized by discounts are price sensitive buyers. These price motivated buyers are on the lookout for better discounts elsewhere, and when they find them you might be faced with offering even deeper discounts to keep them.
Look for incentives that truly reward your most ardent fans. Brand loyalist-only merchandise might help them spread the word. Early news or getting them involved advising on up-coming launches can keep them feeling special.
Keep your brand fanatics happy, but don’t forget who’s in charge.
Of course, there is always the risk of your company seeming callous and disloyal. After all, you should dance with the one what brung ya. And Brand Loyalists can bring many well-documented benefits to a brand. They co-write your brand story, adding personal histories and loving details, and act as one-person, free, PR firms, converting unaware consumers into buyers. Others want to emulate their passion and lifestyle.
But don’t let these hardy, proactive consumers turn you into a fast follower of your own brand. Get out in front, risk making a few of them mad, and find more who may not be as passionate, but whose purchases keep your company in enough sales to be both profitable and innovative.
Jennifer Cooper, President of BuyerSynthesis, helps established and emerging brands grow revenues through better understanding their buyers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.