The Key Triggers That Drive Brand Loyalty

The following is an excerpt from Jean-Pierre Lacroix’s Desire by Design. To learn more about the book, click here.

Brand loyalty is the ability to build sustainable relationships between brands and consumers by providing both a functional and emotional benefit that meet the meaningful needs of the consumer. Certain circumstances or triggers have to exist to attain brand loyalty and allow the relationship between the brand and consumer to flourish. Although there are different facets of these triggers, the overarching factor is the gap between how consumers currently see themselves and where they aspire to be.

Gap in a Sense of Belonging

The premise behind Maslow’s hierarchy is that people must satisfy the lower levels of their needs before moving onto the next stage. I disagree with the premise that needs are hierarchical in nature and can only be achieved level by level, starting with the lowest need. Humans are irrational in nature, and the key to our behavior is our need to belong, which I cover in greater detail in Chapter 7. This sense of belonging permits us to meet both our physical and safety needs through our relationships with family, friends, other people, groups and organizations. In addition, a sense of belonging provides us with a platform through which we can gain self-esteem and the respect we desire from others. Brands can play a pivotal role in fostering individual self-identity within a community by supplying a platform for creating relationships.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

In Maslow’s hierarchy, self-actualization is the pinnacle of human needs. Peak performance can only be achieved by feeling confident, respected and supported through friendships and a work group. Self-actualization, however, can only be accomplished through a sense of belonging, as we constantly seek the recognition and positive feedback of our peers, family, and friends. Without this desire to belong, we wouldn’t have the need for recognition or aspirational desires, since there are no incentives to reach this higher level. Meeting the aspirational needs of consumers is the fundamental need and benefit of brands, and brand loyalty is the ultimate indication that the connection with consumers is sustainable and strong. Social media platforms, clubs, and luxury brands have optimized their effectiveness by meeting the need for consumers to belong, furnishing a system in which like-minded individuals sharing similar values can participate in activities such as yoga, or be bound by the social glue of storytelling through the purchase of luxury goods.

Gap in Unmet Needs

Brands fulfill a unique need. They allow us to be more effcient (Microsoft, IBM, Kraft, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble), have a sense of belonging (Dairy Queen, Budweiser, Starbucks), and reinforce our self-esteem and accomplishments (Harvard, BMW, Apple). In addition, brands help us to realize our full potential by becoming a “badge of success” through their sense of exclusivity (Rolex, Louis Vuitton, Rolls-Royce). We seek brands to help us satisfy our deeply rooted needs and to bridge the gap between what is indispensable and who we are. Apple television ads are a great example of how this unique relationship is reinforced. A casually attired actor touts the simplicity of Apple products, while a more conservative corporately dressed actor promotes the features of Microsoft’s operating system. In many of my client meetings, the Apple ad and its use of personas helped us demonstrate that our self-images are influenced by the brands we support. Brands that help us feed our need for self-esteem and self-image are those that own a greater share of consumer loyalty. These brands help to define consumers within a social context and what they stand for.

Gap in a Consumer’s Self-Image

Consumers whose self-images are strongly linked to a given brand tend to become advocates, and even view competing brands as threats to their self-image. An excellent case of this is the continuous battle between Apple and Microsoft supporters. The beer industry is another great example. Our firm was retained to develop a new Labatt Blue brand for the U.S. market that included testing a range of concepts among loyal and competing beer drinkers. The process consisted of focus groups of 8 beer-drinking men who discussed their perceptions and attitudes toward our client’s brand, and specifically, a range of new beer labels. When competing beer drinkers were interviewed, they associated our client’s beer brand with a range of negative perceptions and personality traits. Negative statements, such as “Losers,” “Not for me,” “Trying too hard to be somebody I’m not,” were shared, and more importantly, these consumers’ self-images were strongly associated with the competing brand. The Labatt Blue brand and its success were perceived as a threat to how the competing beer drinkers wanted the market to perceive them.

Taken together, the Apple-versus-Microsoft battle and our beer industry focus groups demonstrate that the key trigger driving brand loyalty is self-image. The use of visuals and images to emotionally connect us with who we aspire to be is one of the key factors allowing consumers to answer their need to belong and aspire to a better self.

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