This is a question that has been quietly making the rounds in the industry for some time. It was softly muttered over a Whiskey in the back of a dimly lit bar for fear of exposing it to volume or light. Apparently now the secret is out as a major player in the drinks biz has loudly exclaimed that loyalty is dead among today’s consumers.
Please forgive me if it seems callous to say that to some degree it does amuse me to hear this as if brand loyalty is dead or simply dying it is the brands themselves that have contributed and funded their own demise.
Brands don’t talk about the brand anymore. Too many brands have found themselves in a contest to sponsor the cult of personality that is the modern mixology movement. What started as an attempt to better serve the rising cocktail renaissance (a darn good thing) has mutated into a strange brew of cookie-cutter cocktail competitions and an endless parade of cocktail weeks. The brands did not create the preaching to the choir circuit but they are the sponsors. The parallels to the dot-com bubble are frightening.
Brands used to be good at sniffing out positive partnerships working with both on and off-premise customers. Together they had created initiatives that educated both trade and consumers while building the brand. Loyalty was as it is intended – mutual. Today so many brands are focused on courting a small set of potential mates where loyalty is a lot of one-way traffic. You would think that the brands and their agents would be smarting from all of this unrequited love but they appear to be addicted to the pain. Again, the parallels to the dot-com bubble are frightening.
Additionally vexing is the conundrum of marketing to millennials. Most people in my generation or older don’t understand the millennials and to be fair I’m not sure that the millennials understand the millennials.
Despite all that we do not understand about millennials we do know that they prefer social media over human contact so many brands have done their best to live in the cloud.
Social media is the double-edged sword of all double-edged swords. Here the messages are fleeting if not all together capricious. It’s tricky to gain any death when operating in the veneer. You may reach millennials via social media but the span of engagement will make Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes seem like an eternity. Does the number of likes equal sales?
Can Brand Loyalty Exist in the 21st Century?
Yes – I believe that it can and that it will. Brands will eventually regain their senses and engage buyers with their message and extol the virtues of their products. It has always been brands that have built the business and it will be brands that revive it.
My Simple Set of Principles to Building Brand Loyalty
- Don’t use marketing dollars to hire mercenaries.
- Offer authenticity. If you sell a story of an old family, prohibition-era recipe of a Whiskey made in state when it’s actually made in a factory in neighboring state it won’t end well.
- Reach outside of the bubble and engage new people and new markets – it’s a big country.
- Collaborate with your competitors when it comes to telling the story of your brand’s category.
- Two plus two doesn’t equal five (and it never will). Spending tens of thousands of dollars to sponsor a bash where your name is forgotten well before the hangover is solved isn’t branding.