Boss Lady

The secrets of brand loyalty


Companies invest billions of dollars every year trying to get you to choose their brand over the competitors. They want you to be loyal to their brand. The concept of brand loyalty has been around for decades, but the latest in behavioural science has revealed more into why people select one brand over another. It’s less about loyalty and more to do with the fact that our favourite brands are easy to buy.

The average adult makes 35,000 decisions in a typical day. These decisions can range from complicated workplace decisions to more mundane decisions like what socks should I wear today. Daniel Kahneman, the author of Thinking, fast and slow, has found that 97% of these decisions are what he refers to as System 1, that is they are unconscious, automatic and effortless. To cope with the overload, the human mind has short cuts to make it easy.

Brand owners know these short-cuts and invest vast amounts of money to make themselves easier to buy. Brands fight it out in two critical battlegrounds; in mind and in store. The brand that comes to mind first and is closest to reach during the buying moment wins.

A lifetime of memories

Brands come to mind because they build associations with key buying occasions. Our brains build up a lifetime of memories, both good and bad, that we draw upon when purchasing. Our mind performs its own version of Google search and remembers at least two or three brands.

Think about the act of buying a soft-drink. When washing down a burger and fries what brand comes to mind? When entertaining family and friends for Christmas what’s going to be the biggest crowd pleaser? When ordering a bourbon, what mixer do you yell across the crowded bar? I bet it’s not bourbon and Pepsi. Australians are roughly four times as likely to buy Coke over Pepsi because Coke has built up more associations in our minds.

The power of storytelling

Companies invest in advertising to help build these associations. We are exposed to approximately 5,000 messages a day, but only a few get through to our long-term memory. The brain has a filter that controls what information is allowed into our working memory. It acts like a bouncer deciding which messages to let in and which ones to reject, to help us cope with the information overload.

Creating memorable advertising is far from simple. Many brands seek inspiration from filmmakers to help produce engaging stories. Nike’s domination of the global sneaker market is in part due to its ability to tell the story of the hero. Ever since the ‘Just do it’ campaign, they have consistency told stories that bring to life our sporting heroes; Tiger Woods’ come back, Serena Williams domination of the majors, or last year’s campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who risked his career to take a stand for what he believed in — advertising designed to get stored in our brains for the next time we buy sneakers.

Shapes and colours before names

Colours, shapes and sounds also help make brands easier to remember and identify. With consistency, these features can become valuable assets in the war to get purchased. Kraft recently sold its peanut butter factory and recipe to Bega, but not the Kraft name. Bega rebranded the peanut butter and kept the distinctive yellow lid, with many Australians unaware of the change in the brand name. The yellow lid is so valuable that Kraft sued Bega over the usage, fortunately for Bega they lost.

In arms reach

In store is also a key battleground for brands. The average supermarket has approximately 30,000 items, yet the average shopper walks out with 18 products. Big brands pay up to $1million to be ranged and discounted at the front of the store each week so they can be first to hand. Ever wondered why Mars bars are at most checkouts? It’s because they know that 80% of chocolate bar sales are not planned. By ranging at the checkouts, Mars bars are convenient to buy and therefore sales double.

It’s just a commodity

When it comes to buying commodities, we tend to be less loyal. Price plays a more significant influence on our purchase decisions, as we have a less emotional connection with these products or services. It’s harder to have a brand preference for electricity, flour or milk, but it’s not impossible. By making it easier to buy, A2 milk has stood out amongst the other milk offers.

Brands make our lives easier. They come to mind when they’re needed, and they present themselves when we’re ready to buy. Sometimes we reward them with our loyalty, but most of the time it’s a relationship of convenience.

About Troy McKinna'

Troy McKinna is an entrepreneur and brand building specialist. He is the co-founder of Agents of Spring and Calm & Stormy. A sought-after innovation consultant, facilitator and speaker who helps senior leaders and teams build customer-led growth strategies. He is also the author of Brand Hustle – 4 critical foundations to accelerate brand growth ($34.95). Find out more at

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