What drives engagement and loyalty for your brand? Wait, I’ll make the question easier. What drives engagement and loyalty for the category in which your brand competes?
I thought this an appropriate question because we’ve just finished Wave 1 of the 2006 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Index, and we’ve noticed that most of the category drivers in the 35 categories we’ve tracked since 1997 have changed substantively since last year.
“Category drivers”–and the category and customer values, attributes, factors, and benefits that make up the individual components of the category drivers–describe how consumers view a category, compare offerings in a category, and ultimately engage with one brand vs. others. Properly configured, category drivers will tell you what consumers will do–not what they say they’ll do, which is really quite different if you’re keeping score by counting your sales and profits. If consumers do engage with a particular brand, that means that they believe the brand will better meet or exceed the expectations they have for the category–and, of course the category drivers that define the category.
Some category drivers have become more important than others. For some the levels of expectations consumers have for them have increased (they never ever decrease!). For some there have been changes in the values and attributes that are the components, the bits and pieces that actually make up the individual drivers. So everything you thought you knew about your category and brand just changed (again).
I raised the issue of whether you know what your category’s category drivers are, because most companies don’t. That may be a bit harsh. In fairness, I’m pretty sure that most think they do, but given the complexities of the marketplace and the existence of “bionic” consumers in the marketplace, most of the time they really don’t. Most companies think they do because it’s likely that they have relied on some form of traditional conjoint analysis, a multivariate statistical technique that analyzes preferences for various combinations of attributes. The key word in that description is “attributes.” Conjoint can be very helpful in determining which combination of attributes–generally category characteristics and product features–are most preferred by target audiences and how they “group” together. It’s an extraordinarily appropriate approach for situations where a strong case can be made for mostly rational decision-making. And therein lies the problem.
Most authorities agree that today, consumer engagement, decision-making, and loyalty are principally emotionally driven. Rational elements, of course, come into play, but not as much as they did, say, a decade ago, before commoditization reared its ugly head in virtually every product and service category you can think of. We’ve pegged the ratio at 70% emotional to 30% rational. Feel free to argue all you want about the actual numbers, but it isn’t 50:50! Not anymore.
So relying on a perfectly good rational technique to “identify” category drivers isn’t perhaps the best way to amalgamate emotional elements into the process. It certainly can be misleading. It’s one thing for a product category driver to be more “hot” than “cold,” but you tend to run into problems when the value you are looking to gauge is “comforting.” Nobody’s trading off that value for the other side of the rational scale, which might fairly be viewed as “upsetting.”
That’s why you need to adjust your attitude toward how you consider identifying category drivers and should consider relying upon loyalty-based metrics to do that for you. The good news is that they do incorporate emotional elements into the process. The better news is that as part of the output, they also provide you with the levels of expectations that consumers hold for each driver, which is the “yardstick” your consumers are using, albeit on an unarticulated basis. The best news is that they correlate highly with positive behavior toward your brand. Think “sales,” “more sales,” and “profits.”
There’s not a lot you can do about the fact that category drivers change–and will continue to change. That’s marketing fate. The thing is that category drivers are beginning to change faster and faster and faster. How fast? In the marketing world it’s so speeded up that some companies will see the present only when it’s disappearing.
And that’s a pretty good reason for you to change your attitude toward how your companies and brands identify category drivers. If you use properly configured, 21st-century category drivers, drivers that can clearly identify the shifts occurring in your category, they’ll act as leading indicators to how consumers will think and engage with and behave toward your category and your brand.
If it helps, think of those shifts as the process by which the future will invade your corporation. If that doesn’t change your attitude, nothing will!
Robert Passikoff, Ph.D., is founder and president of New York-based marketing firm Brand Keys and pens a monthly column for CHIEF MARKETER.