Two very different types of brand stickiness

Different types of customer stickiness

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Brand loyalty can look a lot like popularity. If people are buying what you offer, you must be doing something right, right? But people stay with brands for different reasons because there are different types of customer stickiness.

Understanding those differences is critical to identifying what your brand is worth to customers and your ability to capitalise on the popularity you are seeing.

Defining stickiness and loyalty

Oana Predoiu defines stickiness in terms of the inclination of customers to purchase the same product from your store more than once. Stickiness highlights repeat customers and their repeated purchases. It can be measured, she says, as the percentage of repeat customers against all customers. The decision to re-purchase is rational and based on transactional quality.

By contrast, customer loyalty stems from a relationship and an emotional bond that can out-last fluctuations in product and experience.

However, this discrepancy in drivers only works if there is a competitive environment and customers have access to choices that are meaningful for them.

The two forms of stuck

I love this distinction by Martin Bishop between the brands we’re stuck on versus the ones we’re stuck with.

Brands we’re stuck on captivate us. Brands we’re stuck with hold us captive. As Bishop points out, “Consumers may be loyal to both types of brands if loyalty is simply measured in terms of repeat business but their feelings about the two types brands [are] very different.”

Brands we are stuck on reward us emotionally through the relationship we have with them. We are loyal to them, and our relationship is expressed through repeat business.

Brands we are stuck with are there strictly for functional compliance. We feel we have no choice but to have a relationship with them, or with someone equally as unattractive. And we stick with them as much as we have to, but only to that point.

Similar metrics, very different feels

The difficulty for brand owners is that the metrics for these two very different levels of customer adherence can look very much the same. Both show up as: low churn; repeat purchase; consistent revenue.

The difference lies in how the customers themselves feel, and whether they openly express that or not. And the litmus test for such loyalty is if or when a viable and competitive alternative offer hits the market. Those who are stuck on the brand may notice it but consciously choose to stay away. Those who feel stuck may well look to escape at the first opportunity.

We quite often hear the argument, “of course, customers have other options”. They may, technically. But emotionally, if buyers feel like one brand is just the same as another, or that your brand is the least painful choice in a grudge purchase market anyway, you are a stuck-with brand in their eyes.

They may buy from you time and again. But they will leave you in an instant if an attractive alternative presents itself.

Customer stickiness is volatile

The stuck-on business model takes commitment and responsiveness. It requires inventiveness and a genuine wish to do good by those who are loyal to you. The loyalty it generates can form the basis for expanding the brand’s presence in a current market or into an adjacent area.

The problem with the stuck-with is that it’s entirely dependent on being the sole choice or everyone in the category remaining low-ebb. It works for a while and the returns can be good. But the brand is unlikely to be able to expand, and its revenue model revolves around no meaningful opposition.

Motivate people to be loyal to your brand

So, can you change the inclination of customers towards a brand from stuck-with to stuck-on? Can you make people loyal to something they may well have tolerated rather than enjoyed? Yes – but only if you change the emotional basis for the relationship from one of resentment or resignation to one of interest and affiliation.

Three ways to do that:

  • Reinforce the value of what you know, what you offer and the difference it makes
  • Talk as openly as you can about the challenges you face
  • State clearly your intention to do right by those who must buy from you

Changing customer stickiness

The most effective way to change the attitude people have towards your brand is to change the attitude they have towards you. The most powerful ways to address different types of customer stickiness are through story and through the signals you send via your language. If your brand needs to forge a new level of loyalty, ask us to help you tell your best story.


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