The halo-effect from best-selling “tidying” author and current Netflix phenom, Marie Kondo brings an existential level of scrutiny to every transaction in 2019. Just as she challenges us to defend our precious possessions by asking if they “spark joy,” today’s consumers demand a similar answer from every potential buy.
This is true of bricks as well as clicks. Successful brands understand that product performance and customer service need to be immaculate, with Amazon’s fulfillment and delivery model as the base line. Hassles in the order, or prickly customer contact (whether remote or live) can lead to a fast mic drop — because there’s always another crispy breaded-chicken sandwich with a pickle just down the road.
But the 4 biggest drivers of brand loyalty in 2019 have more to do with emotion than efficiency. Examining four massively successful brands — Apple, Netflix, Chick-fil-A, and Slack — reveals four lessons that may surprise you.
1. Believe in Magic
Case Study: Apple
The positioning of the Apple message has forever seemed to run contrary to the nerd-appeal of the high-priced, high-tech product. Apple loyalists don’t think, “I want this because it’s a Dual-SIM, 64GB, 12-megapixel hexa-core processing smartphone.” They think, “I want this because it’s an Apple iPhone.”
Apple offered an early desktop model hugged by a translucent plastic shell in jelly-colors. The monosyllabic billboard headline: “Yum.” (Kondo would approve of the brevity and clarity.) A later sales campaign sent grammarians everywhere into a worldwide tizzy with its adverb-free command, “Think different.” Then and now, the appeal of the product — and its marketing — is visceral and emotional. These are the foundations of magic. Capturing this magic for a brand may be as simple as sending a handwritten note to thank a customer for a purchase. What matters, is that the magic is there.
Much has been written about the iconic brand since its founding in 1976, but the magic around Apple persists. Apple products first inspired the now-universal experience of “un-boxing,” where delighted consumers record themselves unwrapping and unpacking a new Apple product, treating the occasion as a personal and family milestone.
An aura of luxury and exclusivity continues to make the brand almost unreasonably profitable relative to the volume of products sold. For example, Apple raked in 87 percent of smartphone profits in the 4th quarter of 2018, but sold only 18 percent of total units sold in the space — fewer than Samsung, for example.
This also allows Apple to maintain premium pricing, always a point of departure separating Apple customers from those who shop based on the bottom-line. Apple even defies conventional marketing wisdoms of transparency and accessibility by continuing to maintain an air of secrecy about its R&D, as well as by making customers literally wait in line for new product as part of much-ballyhooed rollouts.
What every brand can learn from Apple: although nuts and bolts matter, metrics alone do not earn lifelong customer loyalty.
2. Co-Create Your Brand With Your Customer
Case Study: Netflix
In the crowded home-viewing space, Netflix operates with a unique mastery of the viewer psyche. For instance, when the meme “Netflix and Chill” emerged organically via social media several years ago, the company posted the phrase in its own Tumblr, embracing the phrase as the keystone of its marketing campaign. This is a clear demonstration of utilizing consumer behavior to drive the branding message. It’s the reverse of the usual process, where a brand’s marketing team feverishly strives to generate authentic-seeming content that will go mainstream.
Netflix wisely uses consumer behavior as the model for product development. For example, data research reveals that Netflix viewers love to binge-watch. With this in mind, Netflix Originals now often debut with the full series available immediately.
Netflix also knows that its customers graze between genres. They’re free-range omnivores who switch seamlessly from grisly to goofy and back again. For instance, the stats reveal that viewers who loved “American Horror Story”also loved the animation series, “Bob’s Burgers.”
What Netflix teaches us about brand loyalty: listen to your customers as they tell you what your brand needs to be.
3. Allow Your Brand to Be Complex
Case Study: Chick-fil-A
Chick-fil-A describes itself on the company’s website as “the nation’s largest chicken restaurant (based on sales).” Famously closed on Sundays so that employees may rest and worship if they choose, the brand was created by devout Southern Baptist, Truett Cathy.
Writing for Forbes, Kevin Kruse observed, “From the start, Truett Cathy based his company on Biblical principles, and operated in a ‘servant leadership’ style long before it was called that. The religious influence is explicit in the company’s purpose, ‘To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.’”
The company’s expressed position on same-sex marriage caused boycotts from the LGBTQ community. The brand’s conservative stance took on a new dimension in September, 2016, when Chick-fil-A opened its doors on Sunday to feed Orlando blood donors after a mass-shooting at local gay nightclub, Pulse. Chick-fil-A’s website now explains that the restaurants will open on Sundays in emergencies, to prepare free meals for people affected by local disasters.
The Chick-fil-A takeaway: humanitarian service to community sends a powerful message of inclusion, even when sharp ideological differences are present.
4. Be Willing to Evolve
Case Study: Slack
The collaboration hub kicked off 2019 with a logo rebranding, and in the process brought the word “octothorpe” (aka, hashtag) into social media usage in a matter of literally minutes.
What motivated the change in visual identity was the brand’s realization that its existing logo was too complex, confusing, and impossible to apply universally — all major concerns for a digital workflow hub. Slack’s in-house team joined with design innovator Pentagram on the project, producing a refined logo that suggests speech bubbles and is easier to translate across media.