According to the 2010 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (a listing of the brands best able to engage customers and create loyal customers), Apple leads the pack in the categories of laptop computers and smart phones. As an avid user of an Apple laptop, I wasn’t too surprised.
As marketers, we are in the business of converting wants into needs and needs into wants. We create images and words that support the ability of a product or service to improve the way something is currently done or to fill voids, both those that have existed forever and those that have been left by the failure of something else.
We hope that together these images and words are strong enough and appealing enough to evoke an emotional reaction — to influence a person to the point of purchase and ultimately foster loyalty to the brand. But sometimes, just sometimes, it doesn’t work. Why is that?
In an attempt to answer this very question, I decided to examine my loyalty (or lack thereof) to the Apple brand. After all, the Brand Keys Index certainly indicates that Apple has what it takes to create loyal customers.
For me, it started in 2001, when the iPod had just hit the market. How cool — a digital music player the size of a deck of cards! CDs were going to become obsolete and MP3s were going to become the wave of the future. Yes, I had to have one. So, what did I get for Christmas that year? A SanDisk — a brand that my soon-to-be-husband was compelled to buy after research indicated that it was likely to be a superior product. Better? Maybe. Cooler? No. So disappointed.
Unable to connect with what seemed to be the thousands of other folks who over the next couple of years would comprise a cult of white-earphone-wearing, iPod- toting Boston commuters, I became increasingly bothered that I seemed to have missed the beginning of something great. When asked by others if I had an iPod, I would respond with, “No. I have something better. It’s called a SanDisk.” I’m sure you can imagine their reaction. No sale.
Enter the iPod Mini, the iPod Touch, the iPod Nano and the iPod Shuffle. And who could forget about iTunes to support them all? Six more Christmases had passed and still I was not part of the iMovement. Did I feel left out? Sure. Did I want to sit on the train to work and pass the time by listening to my favorite tunes and viewing my favorite videos? Absolutely. But I didn’t buy one. Maybe I was waiting for the next best thing.
Then, out came the iPhone. Seriously, a phone, an iPod and the Internet all in one place? This was my chance! This was the thing I was waiting for. But my actions surprised me. I decided that I didn’t want one. No, scratch that. I decided I didn’t need one. After all, eight years without owning some sort of iPod device hadn’t been all that bad. I mean, I still listened to music, watched videos, and made phone calls. Friends who did own iPods were still willing to associate with me, and my phone did (and still does) exactly what I needed it to — make and receive phone calls. Nothing more, nothing less.
So why haven’t I become a loyal iProduct user? I think it’s because back in 2001, two technology roads diverged, and I — I chose the one less traveled by. Or more accurately, my well-intentioned husband-to-be did. And that’s made all the difference as far as the good people in Cupertino, Calif., and I are concerned.
Brand loyalty has been described as the Holy Grail of marketing. The many factors that influence brand loyalty are what make our work both challenging and exciting. But some factors are outside of our control. Just as Apple couldn’t control my husband, neither can we as marketers control all those who influence our customers’ purchasing decisions. But we can swing the odds in our favor. We can get our devices into the hands of more residents. Offer CMEs. Provide superlative technical support. Ally with key opinion leaders.
Or we can put an i in front of everything and hope for the best.
So, what about that new iPad? You guessed it. iRefuse.
Jennifer A. Nichols is senior account supervisor at Seidler Bernstein whose prior experience includes healthcare communications at HealthGate Data Corp. and public health and social marketing consulting at Policy Studies Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. A licensed and registered dietitian, Jenn also worked at Mass. General Hospital as a clinical dietitian. These days she volunteers on the Board of Health for the town of Easton, Mass.