Understanding Brand Loyalty and Affinity

“Customers want to make informed decisions based on useful information, valuable engagements and brand affinity” – Dane Brookes

When companies engage in branding and promotional activities, it is obviously with the aim of raising awareness about their brand and products, and engaging the attention of customers such that they buy. However, most companies are unable to answer in the affirmative, some hard questions. Questions such as – would customers buy from them even if their products and services were priced higher than others, or would customers make the effort to buy from their store even if they had to go out of their way to do so, or would a competitor be able to ‘steal’ them away with ‘lures’. If a company is unable to respond with a yes to these questions, the problem could be the lack of understanding between brand loyalty and affinity. A company could probably be having a tough time attaining connectivity for their brand, which over time could result in customers leaving for more ‘connected’ companies.

Marketing experts provide the differentiation between brand loyalty and affinity. Brand loyalty deals with faithfulness and steadfastness of customers with a brand, while affinity is about how customers feel towards it – their attraction and enticement towards the brand. Marketing experts seem to think that brand affinity is stronger than loyalty – this belief arises out of the fact that customers now seem to buy more for emotional reasons and feelings than rational ones. When customers are loyal they are so because they need a product – need based. However, when customers truly love a brand they will buy from it irrespective of whether they need it or not – this translates to affinity.

In today’s fast changing and highly competitive business environment, it is imperative for companies to understand the difference between brand loyalty and affinity. We know that today, top class customer service is the best way to attract and retain the attention of customers. As customers continue to associate with a brand, they begin to see more benefits of doing so consistently, and would engage until such time that they have a ‘need’ for the brand. However, when a company is able to build a meaningful, strong, and personal connection with its customers, this translates to brand affinity. It is only when companies can understand the differences between brand loyalty and affinity would they be able to make that extra effort to convert loyalty to affinity.

The reasons for this distinction between brand loyalty and affinity are several. Loyal customers would continue to buy from a company and over time this ‘convenience’ changes to becoming habituated to a company. It is imperative to remember that habits change and soon the seeming loyalty could actually be apathy and the lack of willingness on the part of the customer to make the effort to source a new company as a business partner. However, any changes to a company’s policies, merchandise, and even a smart competitor’s move to sway your customers, could result in customers changing course. Not only does a company lose the particular customer’s business, but also potential business that could have come through the customer’s associates, friends, and social media contacts. Brand affinity is on the other hand, a result of strong and emotional connections – where customers feel for a brand, where the heart of customers rules over their mind. There are some very successful companies today, which enjoy both brand loyalty and affinity from their customers. Their customers seem to have no problem in waiting for products from the particular brand, would be willing to pay more for the products even if similar products were available in the market. In addition, affinity with the brand would ensure passionate buying irrespective of actual need, and refusal to buy any other product if the particular product from their ‘loved’ brand were unavailable. When a company understands both brand loyalty and affinity, they would make every effort to ensure that they are able to forge a strong emotional connection with their customers.

In the past, when companies were able to achieve a certain level of customer satisfaction, it seemed like a massive feat. However, as times changed and customers became more demanding, satisfaction changed to loyalty, which has moved on to brand affinity. Both brand loyalty and affinity are important, and just as loyalty once seemed tough but has been achievable, so also brand affinity. Companies however, must make consistent efforts and put in place meticulous strategies and plans in order to gain affinity from their customers. Affinity, like trust, cannot be forced and neither can a company ‘pretend’ to have achieved it. While brand loyalty and affinity both are effects of active listening, affinity is about truly understanding the concerns and pain areas of customer’s lives and in their business. This understanding would ensure a better level of customer service, and would ensure that customers have an increasingly positive perception of a company. Simple yet important things such as prompt responses to and efficient resolutions of customer complaints can over time, lead to customers feeling extremely warm and affiliated with a company – feelings that would make it very hard for any competitor to ‘steal’ such customers.

The good news is that, when used intelligently, technology has afforded companies with several tools to monitor ‘conversations’ about their products, and easy ways to share intelligent, engaging, and useful information with customers. By keeping customers informed, on a variety of topics, they would feel more involved, devoted, and a part of a company, which is the sure path to brand affinity. The more a company can build such feelings, the more likely it would be that customers would refuse to take their business to any other company, and would be happy to spread the positive word of mouth to others, even without such a request from the company. Companies can create several opportunities to gain brand affinity through social media. Most customers would have a presence on some social media platform, where they would share details about themselves – such as their likes, dislikes, preferences, who their friends and family are, and other such details. By connecting with customers via social media, companies would gain access to these details, which they could then use to build warm feelings and affinity for their products. For example – a customer, who may be sharing posts and comments about pets, would obviously be a lover of animals. By sending such customers interesting reads about animals, or products and services related to pets, a company could build interest and engaging in the minds of the customers. This affinity and affiliation would be even stronger if the company were to share these ‘snippets’ even though its line of business may not be connected with pets or animals in any way. Affinity for a brand builds when customers can see that a company is dedicated to them, and passionate about the same things their customers love.

Brand loyalty and affinity are both incredibly important for a company. However, brand affinity is about customers staying with a company, actively participating in its success, and providing repeated business and referrals not from need alone, but from a deep-seated liking and attachment. Such customers are more likely to ‘protect’ a company from any negativity in the market, any attempts to bring it down, and are more forgiving of faults and lapses. In addition, this affinity would ensure that the customers would provide better responses and higher points when asked for feedback – an easy and tangible way to assess the current and future success of a company. It really is the job of every company to promote brand loyalty and affinity, with emphasis on affinity such that the bond between the company and customers would in several ways become unconquerable and undefeatable.

Learn about a new approach to better customer service!

Interactive Guides for Superior Customer Service

Create interactive decision trees for customer service management, cold call scripts or self-service. Improve sales performance metrics and customer delight across your call centers.

Interactive Decision Tree