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July 24, 2020

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7 min read

Future Proofing Your Brand: Irrational Loyalty

The pandemic has shifted our conversations, especially those around our brands. We’ve all been asking how we can respond to this crisis, how we can pivot as needs change at the drop of a hat.

 We’re also having another conversation, one about the future. We’ve always talked about how to “future proof” our brands, but the last few months have driven the idea home. We all need to have a brand “disaster plan” in place.

 Or do we? As the old saying goes, the best defense is actually a good offense. By planning now and actually pouring concrete action for future proofing into our brands, we can create brands that will withstand whatever the future decides to throw at us, be it another disruptive and unpredictable generation or a global recession.

 So, how do we insulate our brands? We can cultivate what’s known as irrational loyalty.

What Is Irrational Loyalty?

Irrational loyalty is a new term for something most of us are familiar with: the fiercely loyal customer. This person buys from a particular brand, almost no matter what. They’ll go to great lengths to defend the brand, and they’ll stick with it through missteps and mistakes.

 You know a “fiercely loyal” customer. They advocate and sell their favorite brand and trash talk others. A brand that you always look for and pick over everyone else’s? A brand you wait for and save up for, even if you needed the product today and they were sold out.

 Irrational loyalty is when they see past the brand’s mistakes, as the benefit they receive is so much greater. They are likely 20% of your customers who represent 80% of your brand’s revenue. And often ignored in Marketing.

 Brand Loyalty Isn’t Going Anywhere

Millennials and Gen Z have already started disrupting the market. It would be easy to think that “brand loyalty” is dead. Millennials have a reputation for “killing” brands. Some research suggests that Gen Z's shopping patterns suggest they're less sensitive to brand than to price.

 Yet brand loyalty isn’t going anywhere! In fact, Millennials and Zoomers may be even more loyal to the brands they love.

 How’s that work? It's more difficult to convince these generations to love a brand, since they tend to be skeptical. But that simply means you need to prove yourself, and they will grow to love you and they will loudly advocate for you.

 That’s because their skepticism is born of a desire to connect with the brands they interact with. Millennials, and to an even greater extent, Gen Z want brands to reflect their values. They are looking for transparency in what the brand and organization stand for. An example is a company’s commitment to social justice initiatives, and if you are aligned they will have a difficult time letting go.

 So brand loyalty hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s just evolving.

Apple’s Diehard Fans Show the Way

Apple is a good example of irrational loyalty at work. Apple revolutionized portable music with its iPod player. Its computers soon experienced a renaissance too. Colourful, translucent iMacs were a staple of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

 Apple’s iMac design has only evolved, and its MacBook laptops followed. On top of that, Apple has dominated the mobile device game, first with the iPod, then the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010.

 For every new introduction, it is not unusual to see people lined up for hours or even camped out for days to get the latest iPhone. This happened even if not much had changed between models. Apple’s diehard fans have also continued to defend the brand, even as critics have suggested they’re no longer innovative players.

 Does it really make sense to drop $600 or $700+ on a brand new iPhone when the one in your pocket will do? What’s the need to have the absolute latest when not much has changed between models? And what’s more, why wait in line for hours or days for that?

 This is irrational loyalty in action! These people have moved beyond Apple enthusiasts. They are now fierce brand loyalists, and it’s unlikely anything will sway them away from the brand.

How Do You Cultivate Irrational Loyalty?

If something’s irrational, can you even cultivate it? It’s one thing to build up brand advocates or even say you want to work on customer loyalty and retention.

 But if irrational loyalty is just that—irrational—then you might wonder if you can even count on it happening. After all, Apple had been around for more than 30 years before they brought the iPod to market. They had some diehard fans, but they were seen as losing out in the PC wars of the 1990s. Even in the early 2000s, Apple’s dominance didn’t seem like a sure thing—BlackBerry was the smartphone to have. Apple’s still only fourth in personal computers.

 So what turns some people into such fiercely loyal customers? We’ve already hit on the answer when we talked about Millennials and Gen Z. They want brands that speak to them, that connect with them! They want to see how their values line up with the brand’s, and they want to see something of themselves reflected there.

 That’s how you move from “brand loyalty” to irrational loyalty. People want to see themselves in the brands. They want to connect some sort of meaning or story to the brand. A brand that cultivates irrational loyalty tells a story about the people using their products.

 What story is Apple telling about its users? They like a high-end product that comes with sleek, stylish design. Apple is renowned for that. They have a mobile lifestyle. They need their phone to have a great camera to capture their exciting vacations. They need that phone to send messages to all their friends and post to their social accounts too.

 Apple users are also artists and entrepreneurs. They push the envelope; they’re innovative, inspired. That’s why we see them in coffee shops on their MacBooks or walking around with their Airpods in. They’re dreaming of a new future—one embodied in Apple products.

 Apple evokes this kind of narrative. Its products also reflect these values, as do many of the company’s policies. It’s certainly very different than the “corporate” feel of Windows or the ultra-nerdy identity of Linux.

Get to the Core of Your Brand

If irrational loyalty is the way to future proof your brand, how do you make sure you’re baking it into your brand? The answer lies in the core or essence of your brand.

 Think about how people in California construct homes. California lies along the San Andreas fault line. People have seen the destruction massive earthquakes cause. We also have scientific models predicting that there’s going to be another “big one.”

 So how do you prepare for that next “big one”? Buildings in California have to be constructed in a particular way, to make them more resilient. The same thing goes for buildings in Tokyo, another place that experiences frequent earthquakes. (Tokyo also gets tsunamis, which also gets factored into their building codes.)

 Think of your brand like one of these buildings. If you know you’re facing “earthquakes” in the form of Gen Z or technological change, expect that disruption! And doing that starts with the very foundation of your brand.

 Building an unshakeable foundation on core values is going to help you craft that brand narrative that draws people in and lets them develop those emotional connections.

 Core values grow out of your brand’s essence—the why of your business. When you can tap into your brand’s higher purpose, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to discover those values, to craft that narrative and speak to your customers.

 So, can you cultivate irrational loyalty? The answer is yes—you just have to remember to start with the why!

--Margo 

Meet Margo…brand visioning & marketing

Margo Jay is a Master Brand Strategist with a career leading globally recognized brands; developing and launching a proven model that maximizes competitive sales potential and consumer appeal. She has built the model to help companies of all sizes. Her Client roster includes entrepreneurs through to Fortune 100 brands: NHL teams, Global QSR brands, CPG brands, Broadcast brands, Agencies, Non Profit brands, Hard goods…this model and process provides competitive advantage in any category.

Complete clarity. Ownable distinct selling proposition. Shared values. Brand Clarity. Brand Focus. Brand Inspiration. Brand Obsession. Unlocking brand potential is what she does.

And it all starts with why!

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