Brand loyalty

This answers the question: 'Who wants you?'

Brand loyalty is simply a consumer's preference for a brand in a product category. It is often both a conscious and unconscious decision, expressed through an intention to purchase or the actual repurchase of the products of a brand continually and habitually.

Brand loyalty is clear evidence of the success and relevance of branding to both consumers and companies. For consumers, it reduces the search costs,

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Design and style and for companies it is the cornerstone of long-term profitability and competitive leverage. Brand loyalty also leads to lower costs for companies in acquiring and servicing customers because loyal consumers purchase more frequently and in higher quantities and also show less sensitivity to prices. Brand loyalty can also enable luxury brands to save the costs of attracting new customers, which is often four to six times more than retaining an old one.

When consumers become loyal to a brand, it is a demonstration of a high level of trust in the promises of the brand. Brand loyalty is the height of consumer affinity with a brand. In some cases, loyal consumers see the brand as the only solution to their consumption problems and needs fulfilment.

Luxury fashion consumers often show an apparent high level of loyalty and emotional attachment to luxury brands that is sometimes irrational to outside observers. Some consumers that are truly attached to specific brands offer their loyalty to their trusted brands to such an extent that the relationship with the brand departs from functionality to symbolism. This is because luxury brands help consumers project a self-image as a result of the 'prestige' and 'high-status' features with which the brands are associated. This implies that luxury goods serve as a communication tool that consumers use to speak to others and even to themselves of the type of person they are or would like to be. This connection that the brand has forged with the psychology and subconscious of consumers often results from brand loyalty.

Brand loyalty is attained progressively from brand positioning. As highlighted earlier, brand positioning occurs as a result of consumer's awareness of a brand and its image. When consumers have the right perception of a brand, they position the brand in their minds and are likely to involve that brand in their brand choices. If the brand is repeatedly favoured, its share in the mind of the consumer will increase. This is called Brand Share and a high brand share ensures the continuous choice of the products of that brand. This then leads to the manifestation of brand loyalty through repeat purchases or the intention to purchase.

However, repeat purchases of products from the same brand do not automatically have their source in brand loyalty. Several factors like product availability and high awareness could also be contributors to repeat purchases. This does not necessarily mean that brands with high awareness and large sales turnover benefit from more brand loyalty than their smaller contemporaries. Conversely, the high level of brand affinity that luxury consumers demonstrate towards their favoured brands indicates that product unavailability is not a deterrent to luxury consumers' loyalty levels. For example, Hermès customers often have a waiting period of up to eight months to purchase a Birkin bag, in addition to the high price tag of the product. Despite this, the waiting list of this product is always extensive and in some cases customers could wait for up to six months to get on the waiting list! Yet the Hermès Birkin bag has one of the highest loyalty levels in the luxury sector. The same can be said for the loyalty level of several limited-edition products from different luxury brands.

Consumers that are loyal to luxury brands are assets to luxury companies. They offer a lower service cost for the company because they show a high level of commitment to the brand and are often willing to pay a higher price for the products in addition to recommending the brand to others. They are also habitually keen to follow their favoured brands to new destinations and search for these brands everywhere they go. Brand loyalists are also open to new and different distribution channels. For example, luxury consumers are more willing and confident about buying products of their favoured brands on the Internet, provided that the website is authorized and genuine. This is another manifestation of brand loyalty.

Brand loyalty can be achieved by luxury brands through continuously appealing to consumer tastes. The current rapidly changing fashion consumer scene requires that the products offered must be appealing to consumers before loyalty can be attained. Also, consumers must like a brand's service package as well as the brand personality in order to become loyal to the brand. This means that luxury brands must continuously remind their consumers of the value of their products and the worth of loyalty to their brands. This can be done through reinforcement of the brand presence, essence and appeal in advertising and brand message communications. This is what forms the attitudes and beliefs of consumers regarding a brand and leads to brand loyalty.

Another important brand loyalty indicator is related to customer satisfaction. Luxury consumers are becoming more demanding and more individualistic, reducing the chances of single brand loyalty. This indicates that brand loyalty is no longer assured through offering appealing products with a brand symbol, a deluxe shopping environment and excellent customer services. Consumers are demanding a lot more, including a total and lasting brand experience. The previous magic formula of satisfied customer equals loyal customer is no longer valid. Today, a completely satisfied customer of a brand is also bombarded with the advertising messages and offerings of numerous other brands. This makes retaining the attention and loyalty of luxury consumers more tasking.

The most important lesson for luxury brands regarding brand loyalty is to treat all customers like royalty and to remember the 80/20 rule through recognizing the trophy customers and treating them accordingly.

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