Brand loyalty is defined as a behaviour pattern where consumers become committed to a particular brand and make repeat purchases over time. It’s a concept that’s simple in premise, but more complex in practice. How exactly can a brand inspire loyalty? How can loyalty be improved, and what does it even mean to be more loyal? Some of the answers to these questions can be found in politics and society, where extremely loyal tribes form and sustain a natural presence without outside interference.
Conditional Loyalty in Political Studies
Ipsos Mori regularly conducts political studies in order to understand what happens in events such as General Elections. One such study was on how the population of Britain voted in the 2017 general election. Ipsos compared data from 2015 to 2017 in order to establish the differences in voting between the elections. From this comparative study, Ipsos provided estimates of how voters voted in both general elections based on the answers to pre-election surveys combined with verified results of the elections.
This study deals primarily with quantitative data, numbers and percentages. However, this provides a lot of data from which to derive insights such as that loyalty is conditional on matching values; otherwise it can be hard to gain. Researchers can derive key aspects determining conditional loyalty from this study, such as that fact that allegiance to a political party can also be changed depending on the political party’s chance of winning. There is a stark contrast outlined by this study between the two main political parties (Conservative and Labour) and the other parties such as UKIP, Green, and Lib Dems; in the 2017 election, both Conservative and Labour saw a rise in the number of their voters by +6 and +10 points respectively, while UKIP especially saw a fall in the number of voters by -11 points, meaning that, voters have jumped ship to join the biggest contenders that are most likely to win. One interpretation is that the loyalty that voters feel is dependent on the political party’s ability to win and power in parliament to enforce their values within their policies.
The results of this study shows that Conservative and Labour held nine-tenths of the voters in the 2015 election and had a clear demographic of voters that was divided by age, education, and class. Typically middle class voters with a graduate degree seem to be loyal to Labour as is suggested by their 15 point lead in this category, while working class voters with no degree-level qualifications are loyal to the Conservatives as is suggested by their 17 point lead over the other political parties.
These demographics are broadly sweeping, but illustrate the general trend of views among voters that the values of a political party influence their loyalty. This concept of conditional loyalty is backed up by another political study on US voting behaviour in the 2008 election that states “ideology and party identification are more strongly aligned now than they were just two or three decades ago.” This implies that voting behaviour, which typically positively correlates to party identification, is influenced by the policies and values a party displays in the political campaign.
Empathetic Loyalty in Social Studies
As an emotional concept, loyalty is intrinsically linked to other sentimentalities such as nostalgia and personal beliefs/ideology. With this in mind, sentiment and emotions can influence the feeling of loyalty one way or the other quite efficiently if given the right incentive. One social study looks at how loyal familial members are to each other under the stress of drinking problems.
Within this study, “sympathy-giving is related to the moral status they ascribe to the problem drinkers”. So a lot of the insights to be gathered from this challenge the traditional role requirements that people in certain roles should give emotions to each other because their role obligates them to. While the primary emotion that is being discussed here is sympathy, the concept of loyalty could be challenged in the same way, as it is directly influenced by emotions such as empathy and sympathy.
This type of sociological study deals with primarily qualitative data, assumptions and interpretations, that can be extrapolated and applied to the concept of brand loyalty. For example, through this social study on familial relationships there was sometimes a lack of emotional involvement with the alcoholic family member, however, there was still the sympathy that comes from an empathetic caretaker which can be evidenced by Subject 1: “I didn’t even think about [leaving her]. She is part of my family. She is my [family].” The strong familial ties between families with prolific drinking problems suggests a loyalty that is unconditionally ingrained, but that is dependent on the presence of empathy as is shown by Subject 2: “We didn’t want anything to do with him because… He never pulled himself together to be there… we did not care about him because he did not care about us.” Reciprocity is crucial in order to form the bond needed to enable empathy, sympathy, and thus, familial loyalty.
From both this sociological study and Ipsos Mori’s general election research results, we can infer that loyalty is mainly based on values, reciprocity and a chance for success. It is an emotion that relies on other emotions in order to validate it and is changeable depending on ideological alignment both within formal and informal situations.
Application to Market Research
These are just two examples of how social and political research studies can enhance our understanding of complex emotional concepts such as loyalty. So, with the influences of loyalty succinctly outlined, what can researchers do with this information? How can we use this to our advantage? How will this knowledge help researchers generate data that will ultimately help brands improve brand loyalty?
For use in market research, this knowledge enables researchers to redesign research projects in order to collect the right data on customer loyalty and thus generate the best, most accurate insights possible which can better inform customer experience strategies. With this knowledge, researchers are better able to recognise when research questions aren’t going to provide the insights that are needed to make the right decisions, and so can reword them to ensure such an outcome.
This applies to other research tasks and projects too. When designing research projects that intend to understand the current state of a business’ customer loyalty, it is easier to recognise which specific research tasks are better for collecting the correct data through the examples shown in political and social studies.
As an example, in the Ipsos Mori political research report they state that “estimating turnout is one of the hardest challenges when relying solely on survey data” and so, they made changes in order to make their samples more representative of the nation and combine it with post-election data in order to enhance the veracity of their data, thus allowing us to gain more accurate insights into the nation’s sense of political loyalty.
Once the correct data is collected, the understanding of loyalty that researchers gain also allows them to view data within different contexts. However, in an effort to avoid skewing the results unintentionally we must be wary of forcing an interpretation out of the data and instead seek to view all natural interpretations possible contextually in order to be better informed on the natural state of customer loyalty.
Political and social studies can teach researchers a lot about the concept of loyalty as is shown by the two examples in this blog, however there are lots of studies out there that can be used to enhance our understanding of loyalty, with many studies available focusing on the concept itself. I chose these two studies to show that even seemingly unrelated topics can still greatly inform us of loyalty from inference.
Now that we have our better understanding, there are ways in which we can apply it to enable better research and generate accurate insights that display the truth about loyalty and it’s influences; the collecting and making the most of the right data results in more informed decision-making, thus providing insights that will deliver tangible results through the improvement of business strategies designed to promote customer loyalty.
The original version of this article appeared on the FlexMR Insight Blog and can be accessed here.