How To Optimise The Path To Purchase: Part One

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Loyal to a Fault

One of the most seductive and, in some ways, dangerous concepts in consumer marketing is brand loyalty. It’s a phrase we’ve all used and, presumably think we understand, but what do we really mean by it? Can individuals really be loyal to a thing, especially something as relatively valueless and replaceable as a loaf of bread, a tin of beer, or a roll of toilet tissue? And how does it carry through the path to purchase?

According to a much quoted survey by YotPo, 90% of consumers are equally or more brand loyal than before, and 55% say this is driven by the product. This would suggest that if you only make the product great then over time we’ll see the sales result. Which of course we all know isn’t entirely true. This is of course attitudinal data, not behavioural, and behavioural data analysis from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute suggests that marketers regularly overstate the importance of loyalty in driving sales.

So, is it a metaphor; a shorthand way of alluding to a more complex cluster of factors? Maybe, but if so, what are these factors? What are we actually talking about? Because, if we don’t really know what we’re talking about, how can we know how to build it, leverage it, or even if we can rely on it? This slipperiness is the first reason why the notion of brand loyalty can be dangerous.

Preference isn’t Loyalty

Preference is clearly an important constituent of brand loyalty. When given a choice, unencumbered by considerations of value, consumers will consistently opt for Brand A rather than Brand B. This is something we can measure and track. Brand share is similarly real and measurable and, for most consumer brands, is reasonably consistent over time, suggesting there is some level of innate, enduring attraction between consumer and brand. But these are measurements of consumer attitude, and this is the second reason why brand loyalty is a dangerous idea. Consumer attitudes rarely correlate directly with shopper behaviour, and behaviour rings the till.

“Brands allow for routines… Such habits make buying easier – automatic even.”

Byron Sharp, How Brands Grow (Part One)

Since first becoming involved in researching shopper behaviour in 1999, we have looked at decision trees for literally hundreds of brands across just about every category, and across channels and retailers. There are very few examples of categories where shopper’s “natural” decision making is not disrupted by promotional activity. This is self-evident. Otherwise, why invest in promotions? But this is also an acid test of loyalty – and, invariably, loyalty can be bought.

Good Category Management is Key

Even though the disciplines of category management and shopper marketing are in their third decade, they are still too often the poor relations of brand management. Senior management continue to believe that investment in creating demand for a brand will inevitably pull sales through. This approach may be effective, but it isn’t necessarily efficient. The best way of gaining value from ATL investment is, to borrow from Byron Sharp, to make a brand “easy to buy”. If demand can be realised with minimum friction in store, ROI will be maximised. Brand and category management go hand in hand.

Shopping is driven by learnt behaviour. We buy today what we bought yesterday and the day before, until someone gives us a good reason to change. We all benefit, for a time, from the good decisions made by our predecessors. If we replaced the phrase Brand Loyalty with Brand Inertia, we might be less complacent about the power of advertising and more disposed to make the most of all touchpoints along the path to purchase.

Brand Inertia

Brand Loyalty is where marketing is at right now, in creating love for a brand through personality and purpose. Brand Inertia is about optimising the path to purchase by reducing friction throughout.

Look out for our next post all about reducing shopper friction within retail and keeping Brand Inertia across the path to purchase.