Of all the factors relating to consumer behavior, perhaps none is more misinterpreted and mischaracterized than brand loyalty.
While we all have favorite brands in several categories, in most cases our loyalty is an inch deep.
In the agency world, where the religion of branding is unquestioned and inviolable, the misunderstanding of "brand loyalty" is epidemic.
It is true that, all things being equal, people will default to their favorite brand. But every intelligent marketer knows that her competitors are up late every night working to make sure that all things are never equal.
While Coke may be the preferred brand for a soda drinker, any Coke distributor will tell you that if Walmart suddenly puts up a huge Pepsi display and lowers the price, Coke is going to take it in the shorts.
I may prefer American Airlines to United, but if United has a flight to LA that’s $100 cheaper, you know where I’ll be.
Every McDonald's owner knows that if Wendy's suddenly decides to give away free fries with every burger, McDonald's is going to be hurt bad.
What we call "brand loyalty" is actually a far more accurate reflection of habit than loyalty. Most consumers in most categories are cheerfully willing to switch brands if there's something in it for them.
One other misunderstood aspect of brand loyalty concerns heavy users. Heavy users in a category are often presumed to be the most loyal. Often, they are not (please do yourself a favor and read “How Brands Grow” by Prof. Byron Sharp.) Heavy travelers tend to use a wider variety of airlines. People who eat out a lot tend to visit more restaurants. People who drink a lot of wine, drink many brands of wine. Heavy usage in a category is not a reliable indicator of brand loyalty.
This fact is lost on most marketers who tend to think that their brand's heaviest users are their most loyal customers. In fact, someone who visits McDonald’s 4 times a week will be considered a very loyal customer by McDonald’s. But this is not necessarily so. As a heavy category user, this person may be eating 10 fast food meals a week, only 4 of which are at McDonald’s. He may actually use McDonald’s competitors more often than McDonald’s.
In the tortured logic of social media, subtleties like these are a complete mystery.
Which brings us to one of the dumbest social media campaigns I have ever read about. And believe me, that's a very high bar.
Apparently an agency in Norway decided that Facebook "engagement" is more import than actual customers. And so they embarked on an astoundingly misguided promotion to trade "likes" for customers. And lost.
The agency somehow convinced Burger King to give free coupons for a Big Mac to anyone who followed Burger King on Facebook on the condition that if they took the coupon they couldn’t access a new Facebook page Burger King was launching. In other words, you had to turn down the offer of a free Big Mac to access the new BK page.
According to Ad Age, 38,000 people took part in this campaign. Of the people who did, only 8,000 chose to stick with BK. 30,000 opted for the free Big Mac coupon. In a very nasty little trick, Burger King only had 1,000 Big Mac coupons to give out.
The agency is trumpeting the fact that 8,000 people would not accept the coupon and chose to follow Burger King’s new Facebook page. Big fucking deal.
So BK now has 8,000 "more engaged" customers (whatever the hell that means) and 29,000 formerly happy customers who are pissed-off because they wanted a Big Mac and BK cheaped-out on them.
Perhaps worst of all, this dumb-ass idea demonstrated to the world how little true loyalty BK's followers had -- 79% of their Facebook followers opted for the Big Mac.
The ridiculous religion of social media -- and the naive delusion of brand loyalty -- have reached such a point of absurdism that this is being hailed as another great social media achievement.
I’m sure the visionaries behind this nonsense will be speaking and doing victory laps at the next worldwide