How do you define brand loyalty today? In a perfect world, it starts with an unexpected and new experience, then elicits a positive response that people want to share with others. And then…

POOF!

…you’ve successfully brought a loyal customer for life to your brand’s side. That’s the freeway to the secure-everlasting-brand promised land, right? Not exactly. There’s a utopia out there that’s reserved for a few bullet proof brands that seem impermeable to consumer shifts.

And for the rest of us, we’re navigating a world—especially here in the U.S.—of fickle consumers who’ve become the normalized consumers. They question our motives, shift from the norm and have a bold faith (albeit, sometimes blind faith) to their beloved brands. Interestingly enough, they’re more trackable and predictable than ever before.

So, what has created the mercurial customer of today versus the steadfast one of the past? There are many do’s and don’ts of brand strategy, but keep these three do’s in mind to put your brand on the right path.

1. Brand Perception is Everything

First, it starts (and often ends) with perception. In today’s marketplace, the consumer controls your brand perception, you don’t. It’s crucial that you understand who’s in control. What are their normal behaviors? How do they react to marketing and advertising? From reading their customer reviews (this can be a tough one sometimes to swallow) to analyzing surveys, you must monitor all stages of the customer journey. You can even dig into your arsenal of marketing research tools and data to understand your current audience, like:

  • CSATs: Customer satisfaction surveys that measure the health and sentiment of your customers
  • NPS (net promoters score): Measures customer loyalty, most typically, along specific stages of the customer lifecycle

Remember, it’s not simply about data gathering—it’s the translation and insights that data provides. Knowing what you’re processing, why you’re processing it and what to do with it is perhaps the most important part of the branded equation.

Ok, so what else?  

2. Continuously Evaluate Your Audience Segments

All brands must analyze their intelligent, seasoned, expert consumers of today. Because spoiler alert: audience behaviors change based on developments and influxes to their environments. Audiences today are smart, informed and have a (to be quite frank) fine-tuned bullshit filter. They can see through more bullshit today than at any other point in our brand-laden history.

In order to succeed today, you must deliver what audiences thrive off of: authenticity.

You’ll hear brand strategists like us talk about the need for purpose in order to define brand positioning. But that’s the catch with authenticity—you can’t manufacture it.

Sometimes I go into particular fast food restaurant chain that specializes in powerfully tasty chicken. Every single time I hear an employee say “my pleasure” no matter what the transaction is, I want to jam a 12-count box of nuggets in each ear. Is that authenticity?

Companies that subscribe to a bordered communication strategy can be guilty of violating authenticity. By requiring each of your employees to succumb to a mandatory, automatic response, your “authenticity” becomes so irrelevant and old that you lose the meaning all together.

By no means does this strategy count as providing your employees with the necessary tools to consistently express your brand tone and voice while personifying what your brand stands for.

On the contrary, everytime I hear “my pleasure” outside this well-known chain, I do think of their brand. I’ll give them credit for that, but for me, it still doesn’t satisfy the need to elevate the authenticity and genuine brand of today.

3. Practice Transparency with your Customers

Brands often believe that openness and honesty are the only components to authenticity, but that’s not all there is to it.

It’s a few years old, but The Journal of Consumer Psychology defines authenticity as, “The extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be faithful toward itself, true to its consumers, motivated by caring and responsibility, and able to support consumers in being true to themselves.”

Are Millennials and Gen Z customers immune to traditional marketing techniques? Modern marketing favors loyalty programs and cool experiential engagements, but where does authenticity fit in here? Research shows that authenticity will make or break your brand. Give your audience a reason to care.

Welcome to 2019. Time to be real!

From perception to authenticity and so much more, brands are more complex than ever before. It’s fascinating. At no point in history have brands been contemplated, driven and challenged to find meaning—real meaning. Customers may be more challenging to understand, but perhaps their behaviors are clearing the way for meaningful relationships that last.

Give me a shout on Twitter @MarkDeVitoBC and share your thoughts on brand loyalty.

ReMarks is a blog post series coming from the desk of Bates Creative president Mark DeVito.