Loyalty can stem from several avenues of thought. While a consumer may be loyal to a company because of their belief that the company’s products are high-quality, that isn’t the sole means to build a loyal customer base. Enter “Affective Loyalty,” the second of Dr. Richard Oliver’s four stylings of consumer loyalty. While cognitive loyalty affirms the importance of loyalty through premium services, or simply the appearance of them, affective loyalty deals more so with the emotional background of loyalty; instead of just knowing the greatness of your brand, customers can also feel that greatness.
What is Affective Loyalty?
Affective loyalty occurs when a consumer truly likes your company. In that way, affective loyalty occurs in customers who have been uniquely affected by your business or brand. This, then, is much more difficult to centralize compared to cognitive loyalty. Case in point, consider Apple and American Express, the two key examples of brands with lasting cognitive loyalty in our previous article. Even though these brands are commonly known for selling high-quality products, that doesn’t mean that consumers necessarily like those products or that brand.
Small businesses have a leg up compared to their corporate counterparts when seeking consumer affective loyalty. While consumers may like the prices at big-name department stores, when was the last time you saw someone walking down the street wearing a Wal-Mart shirt who wasn’t walking to work? Affective loyalty is the underlying energy that gets a person to wear a branded shirt. People are OK with being seen out in the world with your logo – which likely also accounts for a bit of pride in being a patron to your business.
Affective loyalty is a gut feeling from consumers as to whether your business has their best interests in mind or are truly working on their behalf. Consumers can like something for near-infinite reasons, making affective loyalty the white whale for marketing teams and boardrooms worldwide. Two words frequently attached to affective loyalty are “satisfaction” and “emotion,” both of which are essential to forming affective loyalty among your customers.
Tips for Achieving Affective Loyalty
Be Yourself (No Matter What They Say!)
A sure-fire way to lose affective loyalty is to appear flippant or like a trend chaser. Think in the context of personal relationships; people can easily emotionally read when someone is altering their personality to please someone else. This rule remains true in business.
For a practical example, consider Chicago’s most foul-mouthed hotdog eatery: The Weiner Circle. The Weiner Circle stands in boastful opposition to every so-called rule of building affective loyalty. Customers can expect to be insulted and hurried along when buying hotdogs… but they’ve been coming back for decades. Customers can likely expect a tasty hotdog when they go to The Weiner Circle but that obviously isn’t the only reason the business is successful. The Weiner Circle has a tangible brand which consumers can emphatically like or dislike. While the Weiner Circle likely has its detractors, consider just as well that those detractors know and remember the business even if they won’t likely be customers.
Your goal as a business should be to cultivate a brand and a feeling for your business that kindles an emotional connection with your customers. “Cultivate,” however, doesn’t mean cull your current customers if you already have a company off the ground. Take the existing elements that excite and satisfy your customers and maximize them. While this may sound abstract (and it certainly is!) making your brand likable isn’t as simple as flipping a switch; if it was, every business would.
Involve Your Current Customers
If you are already running a business, there is a pretty good chance you have existing there are already customers who exhibit some level of affective loyalty for your business or brand. Take it upon yourself to find out why. Customers can like a business for more reasons than cheap prices, so find out why your customers choose you over the other businesses that could have suited their needs.
In this case, think of a hardware store operating in an area with big-name competitors nearby. It is near impossible to beat the prices of warehouse stores that buy in bulk to the tune of multiple million dollars a month, so how is it possible for a business to not only exist in that environment but also be genuinely liked by the customers who give their business to the store? Perhaps the staff is especially personable and knowledgeable about repair jobs. Perhaps, even if they can’t beat the prices of corporate competitors, the hardware store may offer to special order specialty parts for customers. Maybe it’s as simple as that the location and organization of the store is better than the warehouse stores. The only way to know, however, is to investigate.
While a business owner can speculate that any number of things bring customers into their store, customers are the only ones who can genuinely say why. Consider opening avenues for your customers to give feedback directly to your business. While running an online survey or other digital outreach options can give you a lot of results, surveys can lead to mixed bags in very small sample sizes. If you want your customers to genuinely like your brand, you ought to speak to them upfront. By being direct with your customers, you can expect more direct (and helpful) responses.
Community Involvement and Philanthropy
Transactions by their nature aren’t a good means to build an emotional connection with your customers. Rather, what happens in between transactions is likely the best place to cultivate affective loyalty. If your business has a brick-and-mortar location, put effort into getting involved in that local community. Call your town or city hall and see if there are any opportunities for your business to volunteer or donate to a community initiative. If your business is in a city with a community board, ask if your business can cater or sponsor the catering for an upcoming meeting. See, if customers think that their image of “good” is the same as yours, they are much closer to forming an emotional (and affective) connection to your business.
Consider making an easily digestible and brand-friendly act of philanthropy on a regular basis. A great example, in this case, is businesses in the food industry; restaurants and markets can offer to donate their extra food to a shelter, or in the case of restaurants, every time a customer orders a specialty dish, the dish’s equivalent ingredients are donated to a food bank. The purpose of this, of course, is to connect your business and brand with an act of goodwill that will make customers proud to patronize your business, and by extension, make them feel they are doing good.
Tempered Expectations and Informed Results
Being that affective loyalty is an emotional gauge, the gestures you make in your community will not resonate with everyone who could become your client or customers. That, however, ought not be your goal. Affective loyalty is best maintained in proportions: it is far more favorable to have several dozen dedicated customers with high affective loyalty compared to a larger customer base with general apathy for your business; the moment something more convenient or emotionally satisfying comes to oppose you, consider those customers gone.
Like many brand and marketing exercises, growing affective loyalty for your business doesn’t have a universal “how to” list. Instead, learning more about the concept allows business owners to tweak their operations and outreach with a new, informed perspective. So, with your scanner tuned to “affective loyalty,” take an outsider’s look at your business structure and consider new ways to not just serve your customers, but leave them satisfied.