Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Brand Loyalty In The Modern Age

When I talk about brands, I'm not talking cattle brands, your personal brand, or even that kid from that fantasy novel. No, I'm talking corporate brands and how we have, or have not, remained loyal to them over the years and into the current modern era.

As a kid, I was dedicated to Nike. They made the best tennis shoes in the world and I loved them. But somewhere around the mid-1980s, I lost faith in them. Why? Because my shoe fell apart. The glue on the sole left me with something that resembled a mad scientist crossed a flip-flop and a scuba flipper on the bottom of my shoe leaving me with this weird flap that made it nearly impossible to walk without tripping. Not to mention the smirks and laughs behind my back by my fellow elementary school students.

I'm nor here to call them out on their teasing me because if I did, I'd have to address my own poor choices as a child. Instead, I'm here to talk about how I've remained loyal, or not, to certain brands and how the culture of brand loyalty has changed with my generation, Generation X. And more importantly, how that shift is impacting Generation Y, or Millenials, Generation Z, and the companies that are falling behind or running ahead.

Back to Nike. I was so loyal to them and so appalled by their poor construction, I switched to Reebok. They may not know it, but that change in brand loyalty probably saved my parents some money. Those Nike Air Jordans were all the rage and cost all the money. But my Reebok high tops were much cheaper, and more importantly to me, they weren't Nike.

Through my early childhood, I also remained loyal to Coke. My mother and step-father drank Pepsi (still do) but I hated it because it tasted too sweet. Plus I modeled myself after my father more, even though I still struggle to admit it today, so if he liked Coke, I liked Coke. Thankfully I would eventually kick my soda habit but for decades I wouldn't drink Pepsi, although I was known to drink Pepsi products if I was desperate enough.

In my formative years, I was brand loyal. It was part of the culture I grew up in. It was ingrained in my head through my parents, TV commercials, and society. I knew Coke was the best because my dad drank it, the commercials said it was better, and I actually liked the taste. I knew Transformers were cool because my friends said so, they had their own TV show, and those cheap knock-off toys I got just didn't feel cool.

Over the years certain brands have come into, or dropped out of, my life. Quiznos. Jersey Mikes. Walmart. Target. Starbucks. Sheetz. They have their own loyal following and many even have their own loyalty program of some sort. Buy enough coffee at Starbucks and you get a free one. Go to Sheetz frequently enough and they'll send you a free coffee cup.

But what does all of this mean to those younger than me? What does it mean to the Millenials and Gen Z? Well, think about how they remain loyal to certain brands. Apple for instance. Countless teens have an iPhone and will continue to have one for a long time. It's a status symbol. It's a way of life. But what about Costco? Why would my kids want to shop at Costco when they can buy everything they want on Amazon? The Washington Post wrote an article on this very topic.

But I've been talking to other people about this for some time now, so it's not news to me that the younger generations are less brand loyal than the old grey hairs like me. And if you think about it, there's a lot of change to society that's behind this. Younger generations have a different view on what is moral or acceptable in society. So when Jared Fogle had issues with the law, it's no surprise that Subway lost customers. But that loss wasn't as large as it could have been because those younger generations weren't really the ones spending the money then. But when you look at the latest issue with H&M and their child models, that younger generation not only quit spending money there, some went so far as to trash stores.

Businesses today walk a fine line between making money and being morally correct. Not that the two are mutually exclusive but sometimes a company needs to leave people behind to make money. This is easily seen in a company that provides a service, such as internet or phone, and continually raises rates. Well, the cost of everything is always on the rise so it's no surprise that they need to raise the rates. That's the cost of doing business. Sure, there are a few outliers like Tesla that may be supplying a product without making a profit, but generally speaking, costs will rise and business will follow that with increased prices.

Where does this leave us going forward? I think it's up to the company to determine if they want to only make money, make money with a good heart, or have a good heart and worry about the money later. I think some companies are already in one of these buckets but may not last long without moving to another one. Here are a few examples that I'm either loyal to, not loyal to, or somewhere in the middle.

SteakUmm - make money with a good heart - They quietly do good things while supplying a reasonably priced product.
AltraZeroDrop - make money with a good heart  to only make money - They started with an altruistic idea, produced a product, and are now growing beyond their customer base.
Patagonia - have a good heart and worry about the money later - Pretty good model of a solid corporate citizen that has a loyal following and still produces a great product.
Starbucks - make money with a good heart - From their front-line employees to their senior management, they focus on the income and the customer.
GoPro - only make money - They've lost footing in recent years and could potentially go bankrupt if they don't turn their focus on their customers.
YouTube - only make money - Even though their a branch of Google (or technically Alphabet), they seriously seem to have lost their way over the years.

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