In an Ipsos ‘Australian Loyalty Study’, Australians were touted as being more loyal to both family and brands, than they were two years ago. Lara Stocchi, research associate at Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, answers back:

Loyalty does exist. Consumers are loyal, but perhaps not in the traditional till-death-do-us-part way. Consider it polygamous loyalty…

It’s loyalty, but not as you know it

Marketers spend a lot of time focusing on brand loyalty. New studies, like the latest Ipsos’ study, report findings that Aussies are becoming more loyal – but are they? In all of the data that we’ve seen, from breakfast cereal to cars, even store choice, the patterns are the same. Loyalty is everywhere… depending on your definition of loyalty that is.

Let’s be pragmatic. Do we really buy only one brand of milk or butter our whole lives? Even if this means ignoring the appeal and convenience of price promotions for a substitute brand? Are we devastated when the chocolate bar we’re craving is not available at the only late night convenience store on the way home? Do we drive an extra 15 minutes to the next supermarket if our favourite cereal is out of stock? No, not often.

Polygamy is the norm

Traditional ‘till-death-do-us-part loyalty’ (brand-monogamy) is very rare. Over time, we end up trying out a few different options in any category we regularly shop from. But that is not to say that we’re promiscuous: we don’t use every single option available to us. Real loyalty lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.

Most people are polygamous loyal shoppers. In each category we develop a personal repertoire of preferred brands and we shuffle amongst this repertoire according to countless contingency factors like availability and promotions.

This pattern of buying has been observed across countries and categories over the past five decades. It is well documented in academic research on buyer and consumer behaviour, even if countless studies choose to ignore it. But some large marketing organisations have taken this empirical knowledge on board and are using it to their advantage (including some of the biggest FMCGs like Procter & Gamble and Kraft).

Wise marketers

According to the same Ipsos loyalty study, “88% of Australians say they are more loyal to their spouse than they were two years ago”. Apparently, along with lots of other loyalty items (cars, coffees, employers etc) most respondents declared themselves more loyal to their partners than two years ago. Studies that compare brands to relationships usually worry me. That said, given the context, I just can’t help doing the same. Samuel Johnson wisely said: “Wise married women dont trouble themselves about infidelity in their husbands”. I would like to add: “Wise marketers don’t trouble themselves about infidelity in their customers.”