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Australian consumers are in less committed relationships with their favourite brands than ever before.

New research from customer loyalty program specialist ICLP has revealed that just three per cent of consumers feel ‘devoted’ towards their preferred retail brands. This is bad news for retailers as devotion—how passionate, committed and intimate consumers feel towards a brand—is key to growing high-value, enduring relationships.

Devoted customers are the most likely (88 per cent) to recommend a retailer to others and the least likely to stray to a competitor. They are also more willing to share personal information, opinions and desires with their favourite brands.

ICLP partnered with Professor Ron Rogge from the University of Rochester on the study. Rogge created a model based on Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love to analyse the interactions consumers have with brands.

This focused on three key components of a relationship that were adapted for the retail environment: intimacy, or willingness to share information with a retailer; passion, which translates as brand enthusiasm; and commitment, or loyalty to a brand.

“Our analyses suggested that the same seven basic types of relationships emerged for both brand and close relationships,” explained Rogge. “In fact, a majority of respondents approached their relationships with favourite brands in a very similar manner to how they approached their close relationships.

“Therefore, developing a strong and devoted relationship with a brand might not be so different from developing a strong and caring bond with another person, suggesting that people might buy with their hearts.”

The types of relationships ranged from empty (the least desirable) to liking, casual, romantic, companionate and devoted. The research found that only eight per cent of people in a ‘liking’ relationship would recommend a retailer to others. A larger proportion (23 per cent) of those who feel they are in ‘casual’ relationships with a brand would do the same, and 37 per cent of those in a ‘companionate’ relationship.

Inspiring devotion

With devotion a key component in driving customer engagement (and sales) ICLP general manager, Simon Morgan, said it is important for retailers to be aware of what their customers are looking for in a consumer-brand relationship.

Morgan explained that the research shows consumers are looking for the same thing from brands that they get from friends and loved ones: good communication, reliability, consistency, reward and recognition.

“Brands today are finding it difficult to bond with their customers; the level of choice means consumers are increasingly distracted,” he said. “I think brands across any sector can look at this research and begin to explore a new model for cultivating brand loyalty.”

Implementing a loyalty program is one way to increase devotion. In fact, 73 per cent of shoppers stated they would be encouraged to shop more with a brand if it had a loyalty system. The findings also suggest that loyalty goes significantly deeper than traditional points-based reward programs.

Consumers are also looking for more respect from retailers, and would like to trust them more. Over half (54 per cent) would buy more if retailers treated them with more respect and 49 per cent would buy more if there was greater trust.

Communication is another important factor. 49 per cent of respondents said they would buy more if brands communicated with them better. This shows the importance of using better communications and engagement strategies to create a devoted relationship.

“Truly understanding the emotional factors that contribute to a consumer’s devotion to a brand—that’s what we’re working towards,” added Morgan.


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