HBR: Customer Interactions Don’t Build Brand Loyalty

31 May

Harvard Business Review published a fascinating piece on the myths of customer engagement. The report, based on a study of more than 7,000 consumers, focuses on three common mistakes: assuming that consumers want a brand relationship, assuming that interactions build loyalty, and assuming that customer stickiness is correlated with the quantity of marketing interactions.

The consumer-focused analysis included three powerful observations that will be useful to any marketer:

(1) Consumers and marketers think about brand relationships very differently.  According to the report, “only 23% of the consumers in our study said they have a relationship with a brand. In the typical consumer’s view of the world, relationships are reserved for friends, family and colleagues. That’s why, when you ask the 77% of consumers who don’t have relationships with brands to explain why, you get comments like “It’s just a brand, not a member of my family.” (What consumers really want when they interact with brands online is to get discounts).”

(2) Your purpose, and not your frequency of interaction, will determine brand loyalty. The core insight is that brand relationships are built on shared values. “Of the consumers in our study who said they have a brand relationship, 64% cited shared values as the primary reason. That’s far and away the largest driver. Meanwhile, only 13% cited frequent interactions with the brand as a reason for having a relationship.”

(3) Too many marketers over-market in an attempt to drive engagement. According to the report, “there’s no correlation between interactions with a customer and the likelihood that he or she will be “sticky” (go through with an intended purchase, purchase again, and recommend).” There is, however, a significant risk that over-marketing, especially using email, will result in a negative customer experience.

While these are great rules for consumer marketing, it’s interesting to think about how they might apply to business-to-business relationships. The most important difference is that many B2B relationships (but not all) are built on a personal relationship between a sales person or account manager or support person and the end customer. For these sorts of businesses, the personal relationship is an important part of the brand relationship and the quantity of interactions likely does correlate with customer loyalty. But the other rules likely apply without alteration: purpose and shared-values form the foundation of any brand relationship and all marketers, B2B or B2C, need focus on the quality and not the quantity of interactions if they intend to impact brand loyalty.

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