Dr. Brian Monger
Over the years, we have come to recognise three major types of buyer loyalty. They are product, brand, or store recognition; product, brand, or store preference; and product, brand, or store insistence.
Product, brand, or store recognition is simply the ability to identify store, products, or brands with no detailed knowledge about them. Recognition is the least loyal classification of customers. While these buyers at least remember having heard of or observed a store, product, or brand, they feel no particular identification; they do not know enough about it to have preferences. The buyer may purchase the brand or frequent the store if alternatives in the area are even less recognised. The likelihood of purchase is low, and marketing managers want to get their offerings out of this category if they possibly can. Much creative personal selling, sales promotion, advertising, and publicity is designed to get products, brands, and stores out of this category.
Product, brand, or store preference is a definite bias toward the store, product, or brand; but buyers in this category will accept a substitute before going without. A purchaser of soft drinks is an example. An individual may prefer Pepsi but will accept another brand before not drinking. Buyers can often express preferences for automobiles, appliances, canned foods, and doctors. Product, brand, or store preference is the state of loyalty when many buyers purchase from habit and experience. For example, a buyer who generally prefers Maxwell House coffee might buy another brand on special sale or if Maxwell House is out of stock. Sellers have a loyal customer as long as they maintain a competitive advantage and the product is generally available.
Product, brand, or store insistence is when the buyer will not willingly accept a substitute. The buyer will go without the product before accepting a substitute or the buyer will not shop in any other store. Insistent buyers will go to considerable trouble to purchase the desired product or brand, or purchase from the desired store. This is an objective of most marketing managers.
Here, the store, product, or brand may enjoy a very inelastic demand curve. A case of complete insistence is seldom found. There is usually some periodic switching between alternatives, even by the most loyal customers.
A highly loyal market is said to be one that contains a large number of undivided and insistent loyal buyers. The individuals who spent time, money and effort to inform the Coca-Cola company that they wanted the “old Coke” back were considered a loyal market. It appears the company did not identify the loyal market until New Coke was introduced.
Loyalty is Learned
What we know about buyer loyalty is closely related to learning. Implicit in buyer loyalty is the assumption that buyers learn from past experience and that future behaviour is influenced by what was learned. However, just as the accepted models of learning differ, so do the opinions on how buyer loyalty is established.
Past behaviour is a cornerstone to learning. However, buyer loyalty is not based only on past behaviour. The concept of buyer loyalty must also incorporate the commitment to the decision over time. Learning influences future behaviour, but it will not always lead to buyer loyalty.
Loyalty Is Related to Attitudes
Buyer loyalty is directly related to buyer attitudes. The attitude acquired toward each alternative (product, brand, or store) plays a large part in that alternative’s acceptability. Positive attitudes lead to a favorable assessment, while negative attitudes cause an alternative to be dropped. The intensity of the attitude, whether positive or negative, is a factor in determining the quickness and the finality of the buyer’s decision. It follows that buyers tend to be more loyal to those alternatives toward which they have a strong positive attitude. Once this attitude is learned it takes some strong dissonant information to break the established pattern of response.
The transferable nature of attitudes is also a factor in developing buyer loyalty. Favorable attitudes previously developed toward one product in a line may carry over to others, and so does the related loyalty. This is the reason that some sellers (Heinz and Campbell’s soups and John West for example) identify and promote families of products. These carryover attitudes of buyers make it possible for the seller to develop instant loyalty for a product even though the person has no previous experience with it. Their favourable attitude toward other products in the family can carry over to the new offering. If the new product performs adequately, then it further strengthens loyalty toward the entire family. In order to change the buyer’s attitude and loyalty, there must be some change in the buyer’s information or perception of the product, brand, or store.
Loyalty Conditions Buyer Motivation
Loyalty tends to condition motivation because a loyal buyer does not perceive dissonance to the extent that others might. A loyal buyer is a satisfied buyer; satisfaction tends to reduce motivation. Without motivation to change, the buyer will stay loyal.
On the other hand, a buyer who does not display loyalty for the firm’s product, brand, or store offers a challenge. The marketing manager must motivate this buyer to try the product, brand, or store, to learn about its advantages, and to be convinced of its worth. The manager uses all appropriate variables of the marketing mix to accomplish this end. The manager wants to convince the buyer that the product, brand, or store offers satisfaction which can be developed over time into loyalty. Thus, how and why the buyer is motivated has a direct bearing on buyer loyalty.