While the 4Ps are rather outdated for current marketing theory, product and price have certainly become key drivers for recession-hit consumers needing to cut back on their basic day-to-day expenditure. Take the weekly supermarket shop: the majority of consumers have at least experimented with own-label supermarket brands since the start of the recession in an attempt to save a little of their hard-earned cash. This has provided a problem for many of our day-to-day household brands, which rely on an ingrained sense of brand loyalty to make us automatically reach for their products on the shelf (I’ve always bought Heinz baked beans, Colgate toothpaste, etc.): their consumers have started to investigate how much difference the brand label makes. And the continued move towards own-label products suggests that many consumers see little difference. Having discovered that paying the higher price of the brand does not equate to receiving a higher quality product, brand loyalty is liable to be tested.
However, reformulating the product or dropping the price alone are unlikely to bring back this generation of consumers to a brand, because once they have taken the leap and started shopping around, they are likely to continue to do so. And with the wealth of information (and shopping options) available online, consumers can really find out what they’re buying and decide whether the product is worth the money, as well as shopping around to find the best-priced vendor.
So how can brands drive customer loyalty? Suggested solutions are many and varied. Good customer experience (on all channels) seems to be the most popular answer and a good one, but we are interested in the suggestion made by Kirk Kazanjian, author of ‘Driving Loyalty’ – that sustainability is a key ingredient for driving brand loyalty. (http://books.broadwayworld.com/article/New-Book-Highlights-How-Enterprise-Holdings-Builds-Brand-Loyalty-20130515)
Most brands now have CSR policies and Sustainability programmes, but many of them just pay lip service to the need to be green. However, Kazanjian argues that in the US customers have a strong interest in supporting brands that are really committed to sustainable operation. In the case of Enterprise Holdings (including Enterprise Rent-A-Car) the large investments made in adding hybrid and electric vehicles to their rental fleets have sent a clear message of their commitment to the environment: and customers can see for themselves that the commitments are acted upon through the availability of these cars. Enterprise, by showing their commitment to the future have attracted customers to use them in the present. Enterprise also maximise on the PR possibilities of their investments in the environment, by creating a sustainability report recording their efforts, which is then verified by the Global Reporting Initiative.
Is this valid beyond the car market?
In the same way the Coca-Cola are now taking pains to advertise their efforts to tackle obesity worldwide, we feel that brands have the greatest potential to regain brand loyalty if they take an area of CSR, create a clear policy and plan of action to affect change, and then communicate it. This policy might be fighting for better working conditions in Asian clothing factories, saving the rain forest, or fighting obesity (amongst many others), but showing customers that your brand cares about the wider world – in particular an issue directly related to how your brand affects the world, could be the best way to gain real brand loyalty right now.