Loyalty, as defined by our friends at Google, is “a strong feeling of support or allegiance,” but it’s so much more than that. Loyalty is a layered, nuanced, complex emotion. And as humans, there is nothing we covet more than a true feeling of loyalty. Consider how you feel when you experience genuine loyalty in your personal relationships: protected, valued, even cherished. But what causes that level of loyalty with someone? It likely results from shared feelings of trust, reliability, appreciation, and even empathy.
In the “Humanizing Loyalty” research SIVO conducted with ICF Next (formerly Olson 1to1) and Panoramix Global, we uncovered that the emotional drivers of genuine loyalty between brands and consumers are really no different than those we experience in our personal relationships. And for brands to succeed, they must realize they are in a relationship with their customers, where the goal is to be authentic and real – not perfect – just like personal relationships.
Our research showed that when people feel – and experience – core characteristics of loyalty like trust and appreciation, disloyalty actually feels wrong and is less likely to happen. Imagine your customers refusing to leave your brand because it would feel wrong. Wow – pretty powerful.
I have two of these brand relationships in my own life: Lexus and Spots Gone Carpet Cleaning & Restoration, a local company where I live in Minneapolis. Wait – what? Yes, two completely different companies, two completely different categories, two completely different marketing budgets – both with very important behaviors in common in how they’ve earned my loyalty.
Brand purpose = me
First, both companies have a brand purpose rooted in serving me. They make me feel that they are in business FOR me, to remove the pain points in MY life.
At the base level, they both provide an outstanding product or service I can count on, but that’s just (should be) table stakes. More than that, their actions over time have proven that I can trust them to deliver on their promises – both big and small. They make me feel appreciated with every interaction – not just when I’m buying something. Do things always go right? No, but they’re transparent if they make a mistake and take accountability, and that goes a long way with me. Our relationship isn’t perfect; it’s real and honest.
Second, both companies work hard to demonstrate empathy and appreciation, which feels rare in today’s world. Not surprisingly, our research with ICF Next and Panoramix Global found that 79% of consumers want to feel appreciated, but only 64% say they get this from the brands they use most. So, how do my beloved brands pull this off?
Lexus treats me like a guest in their home
It started when I first purchased a Lexus car and was treated with a great deal of respect and honesty. As I looked around, I saw everyone was being treated this way: men, women, young, old. It continued years later when I needed to trade in my car earlier than expected for one that better suited my changing lifestyle and they created a plan that worked for both of us. Then there was a recent experience when I had an unexpected flat tire and they worked hard to squeeze me in because I desperately needed my car for a work trip the next day. Or it’s the countless times I bring my car in for routine service and they welcome me with a big smile, and honestly manage my expectations about how long it will take so I can plan my day accordingly.
On my last visit to the dealership, I noticed The Lexus Covenant and it states that they’ll treat each customer like a “guest in our home”. I feel this loud and clear. (It doesn’t hurt that their waiting area is nicer than my own living room.) Four Lexus cars into the relationship, it’s the sum of all of these interactions throughout the years that has sealed the deal for me. And with each interaction they always, always thank me for choosing to do business with them. Yes, it is a choice – and they honor that.
Spots Gone treats me more like a dear friend than a customer
Spots Gone has earned my loyalty thanks to the kind problem-solvers who answer the phone when I call in a panic about my stained carpet. Because the owner of the company shows up to make sure the job is done correctly, and because he follows up a week later to see if I’m satisfied. It’s the consideration they show me when they let me know they’re running 10 minutes late and “hope that doesn’t mess up my day.” It’s their transparent pricing, a thorough explanation of the products they use and exactly what will be done, and the pro tips they give me so I don’t have to call them the next time my puppy has an accident (use white vinegar!).
Loyalty is about a mindset, not money
As long as it is financially viable, I will always buy a Lexus. And, I will never call another carpet-cleaning company as long as I live in the Twin Cities. How can an international luxury car company and a local, independently owned carpet cleaner both generate the same level of loyalty in me?
It’s about a mindset. You don’t need deep pockets to be consumer-centric or to act with trust, reliability or empathy.
That’s where we as human insights professionals come in. Companies win your heart when they humanize their approach to earning your loyalty.
We guide brands to focus on their customers as the North Star, realizing the power of their relationship and delivering insights to strengthen that connection. It’s about truly understanding what people value, finding and solving their pain points and delivering a customer experience where disloyalty feels wrong. That’s where the magic happens – the magic of that layered, nuanced, complex emotion we call loyalty.
Ruthie brings over 20 years of senior leadership experience in consumer insights, brand strategy and marketing communications to her work at SIVO Insights. She has deep empathy for client needs, high partnership standards, and an eye toward meeting business objectives. Ruthie is a seasoned moderator and strategist whose warm, approachable style makes consumers feel they are talking to a friend and results in deeper insights. Her strong relationships and strategic influence have shaped positioning, innovation, and growth strategies for blue-chip brands across food, technology, entertainment and retail.