Loyalty is defined as a strong feeling of support or allegiance. Companies fight for it because it correlates well to product sales. The Fabulous Five (Google, Amazon, Apple, Samsung, and Facebook) are waging a spectacular battle against each other to earn customer loyalty.
A key to winning is to understand the types of loyalty. Professor Christie Nordhielm describes three types as part of her marketing strategy framework, The Big Picture:
Heart Loyalty is a strong emotional involvement with a particular brand. When a customer says, “I love my Macbook Pro,” they are exhibiting heart loyalty. We see this type of loyalty for “badge” or “neck-tie” products, products that are consumed in public and are thought to reflect something about the nature or identity of the person consuming them. This type of loyalty is very difficult for competitors to challenge because it is highly personal and emotional in nature and thus, resistant to rational appeals. Because a product choice based on heart loyalty is tied up with the consumers’ identity and ego, a competitive challenge to this choice can be perceived as a personal affront to the consumer. Heart loyal consumers don’t like to be told they should switch.
Head Loyalty is also a type of highly involved loyalty, but it is more rational in nature. A consumer exhibiting this type of loyalty generally has one or more specific reasons why she has made her purchase decision, and she readily articulates these. “I bought this car because it has the highest safety ratings,” is an example of head loyalty. Products whose attributes can be compared and differentiated tend to generate more head loyalty. Competitors seeking to steal customers exhibiting head loyalty generally need to provide a compelling, rational argument for their brand.
Hand Loyalty is low-involvement, habitual loyalty. The consumer is loyal to the product not because of an emotional or rational involvement, but simply because of a routine that she has established. Her commitment to the brand is low, and her interest in expending the resources necessary to search for a replacement brand is even lower. “This toilet paper is fine,” is a common hand loyalty statement. The challenge for competitors seeking to steal hand loyal customers is to convince them that it is worth it to think about changing – difficult to do because consumers want low involvement by definition.
Where do the Fabulous Five fit? Undoubtedly, Apple seeks and retains Heart Loyals. Some would call Apple customers zealous. Samsung and Google, on the other hand, appeal to Head Loyals. Their customers choose and continue to use their products and services based on facts. Amazon is a classic example of Hand Loyalty. Customers buy at Amazon out of habit. It’s easy and quick, and there is no need to think about.
The wild card in all of this is Facebook. Facebook as an enormous customer base, but one must question where the loyalty of these customers resides. Is it with Facebook itself, or is it with the friends one is connected to? Facebook does a great job of giving people the chance to “Like” others, but it may be making a huge mistake of not strengthening the inherent loyalty people have to it. If it can turn people around from seeing Facebook as a necessary evil and create true Heart Loyal customers on par with Apple, it may well emerge as the winner in the Fabulous Five battle.
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Drew Boyd is Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at www.innovationinpractice.com and at http://twitter.com/drewboyd