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Understanding the links between consumer psychology and brand loyalty

Posted on: January 31, 2024

Today’s marketplaces are fiercely competitive and frequently at the mercy of ever-changing consumer preferences. Businesses that build and nurture strong brand loyalty as part of their brand image, however, are more likely to achieve sustainable success. And the best brand loyalty strategies leverage the psychological underpinnings of consumer behaviour, known as consumer psychology, and apply these insights strategically.

Understanding consumer behaviour and consumer psychology

Consumer psychology is the study of how individuals and groups make decisions to spend their available resources – such as time, money, or effort – and explores the cognitive processes, emotions, and behaviours that influence consumers’ choices.

“Consumer behavior—or how people buy and use goods and services—is a rich field of psychological research, particularly for companies trying to sell products to as many potential customers as possible,” explains Psychology Today

“Corporations, political campaigns, and nonprofit organizations all consult findings about consumer behavior to determine how best to market products, candidates, or issues.”

Consumer psychology is, in essence, the study of consumer behaviour.

The psychology behind brand loyalty

Brand loyalty is an important concept within consumer psychology, and brand loyalty strategies are often shaped by consumer psychology theories. For example, consumer psychology studies have highlighted the effectiveness of catering to humanity’s need for community when building loyalty, so brands often find success when they create a sense of belonging in their customers, or enhance their customer relationships.

“The notion of loyalty is complex and influenced by rational and irrational drivers,” adds Kearney, a global management consulting firm. “Many of these drivers are subconscious, with an enormous range of resulting behaviors.”

There are a number of ways to conduct research in this area of social science. One example is structural equation modelling, or SEM – a research model or conceptual framework used to map connections and relationships between different variables and outcomes. It can be used to look at things such as brand attachment, brand engagement, consumer perception and preferences, customer decision-making, and so on.

This information is examined alongside a wider methodology of general consumer research as well as hard data, such as the number of customers who repurchase products or engage with the brand on social media. This helps to build a full picture of what works and what doesn’t.

The different types of brand loyalty

Much like people themselves, brand loyalty is not a one-size-fits-all concept. It can take different forms, and there is a variety of types and models that have been identified through consumer psychology research and marketing research. Some common brand loyalty types include:

  • Behavioural loyalty. This type of loyalty is based on repeat purchase behaviour. Customers who exhibit behavioural loyalty continue to buy from the same brand out of habit or convenience.
  • Attitudinal loyalty. Attitudinal loyalty refers to customers who may express a favourable attitude or preference for a particular brand but who may not always purchase the brand’s products. These customers may intend to remain loyal but can be swayed by competitive offers, and are sometimes referred to as shifting loyals or split loyals as they’re likely to move between brands.
  • Conative loyalty. Conative loyalty indicates a strong desire to remain loyal to a brand in terms of their purchase intentions, despite external factors. Customers with conative loyalty are less susceptible to switching brands, even in the face of tempting alternatives. 
  • Affective loyalty. Affective loyalty is rooted in emotional attachment to a brand. Customers with affective loyalty not only prefer the brand but also feel a deep emotional connection to it. They may actively promote the brand through word-of-mouth and social media, becoming brand advocates. This type of consumer is sometimes referred to as a hardcore loyal.
  • Switchers. Switchers is a term that’s sometimes used to refer to consumers or customers who abandon a brand they were previously loyal to. For example, if someone has only purchased Apple iPhones for years, and then switches to a Samsung Galaxy, they would be considered a brand switcher. 

It’s important that businesses understand the different types of consumer loyalty that exist so they can target their strategies to each segment on the spectrum and create as many hard-core loyals – or as much affective loyalty – as possible within their markets.

The benefits of building brand loyalty

Strong brand loyalty is essentially invaluable, and its benefits can be difficult to quantify because they’re so sweeping in scope.

Consider customer retention. Strong brand loyalty is typically coupled with increased customer retention because customers who feel a sense of loyalty to a particular brand are less likely to switch to competitors. This offers a huge competitive advantage, of course, and it also creates greater cost efficiencies – it’s usually more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to retain existing ones. And this loyal customer base also means that the business is better prepared to withstand pressures or unforeseen challenges – such as economic downturns – because loyal consumers are more likely to carry on supporting a preferred brand even during times of instability or uncertainty.

Other benefits of these strong consumer-brand relationships often include increased brand equity and brand awareness more broadly, as well as better customer experiences – and customer satisfaction – all of which can pay dividends for businesses in the long-term.

How to measure brand loyalty

To effectively manage – and enhance – brand loyalty, businesses need reliable metrics for assessment. Some common methods for measuring brand loyalty include:

  • Conducting surveys and questionnaires. Surveys or questionnaires are a simple way to gauge customer loyalty levels and the brand experience, and might include questions about satisfaction with a recent purchase or whether the individual would recommend the brand to other people.
  • Analysing customer retention rates. Customer retention rates can indicate a positive impact as well as the strength of brand loyalty. A high retention rate, for example, suggests that customers are loyal and have continued to choose the brand over its competitors. On the flip side, identifying regression in retention rates early on means businesses will be better positioned to quickly address any issues.
  • Monitoring social media engagement. Social media mentions, likes, shares, and comments connected to the brand can help illustrate customer sentiment and loyalty.

How businesses can leverage consumer psychology to develop brand loyalty

There are a number of methods and strategies rooted in consumer psychology that can help brands to build loyalty among their customers. 

For example, they should aim to:

  • Build brand trust and credibility. Trust is a proven and fundamental driver of loyalty, so it’s important that businesses establish their trustworthiness by consistently delivering quality products or services, highlighting their points of differentiation, and providing excellent customer experiences.
  • Foster emotional connections. Consumer psychology tells us that emotion is a significant determinant of brand loyalty, so it’s important businesses use available tools – such as storytelling, brand narratives, and relatable content – to create emotional connections. This might include engaging with customers on social networks, making a point to respond to their enquiries or feedback, or actively participating in online brand communities. It might also include offering loyalty incentive programmes that reward repeat customers – with discounts or exclusive offers, for example – and help to reinforce loyalty.
  • Personalise marketing efforts. Using data and technology, businesses should aim to personalise their marketing messages and offers wherever possible, because consumers are more likely to remain loyal when they feel recognised and valued as individuals.

It’s also important a brand loyalty strategy – or its wider marketing strategy – continuously evolves. Consumer preferences and behaviours change over time, so strategies need to adapt as needed.

Further resources

  • Antecedents and Consequences of Brand Love, first published in the Journal of Brand Management
  • The Journal of Business Research, an open access journal
  • The Journal of Marketing Research
  • The Journal of Consumer Marketing
  • The Journal of Marketing Management
  • The Journal of Retailing
  • The International Journal of Consumer Studies
  • The Marketing Science online publication

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