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Saturn Aura & Saturn L200

RIP, Saturn.

I’ve got a problem. My wife and I are shopping for a car, but the brand we have purchased for our last 4 cars (yes, we may have been obsessively loyal) no longer exists. So what brands to consider now? And why?

And while I pondered these deep questions, I also began wondering what made customers “brand loyal” in general. I’m sure there are boatloads of reasons, simple and complex, but 6 obvious motivations jumped out at me. (Feel free to add your reasons in the comments.)

And, it also occurred to me that companies can probably work a little harder to make it easier for their customers to be loyal. How? The obvious way is by spending some resources to reinforce or promote one (or more) of these loyalty reasons. Some companies do this really, really well: think Apple, IKEA, In and Out Burger, Zappos, and NewEgg. Others? Well, not so much.

1. Trust. Customers know what to expect when buying from companies they are loyal to. This trust can take many forms, but generally will include reliability, or ease of use, or suitability for a particular task. In short, there are no surprises: it’s worked in the past, and they expect it to work in the future. This applies to big purchases, as well as mundane ones like diapers, trash bags, laundry detergent and underwear.

2. Ease of doing business. Customers buy because it’s easy to make a transaction, and customer service is painless (sometimes even fun). Amazon and Zappos are great examples. The prices are great, shipping is simple, and returns are (relatively) uncomplicated.

3. Passion. Customers feel really, really strongly about the brand. Usually there are other intangible factors at work here, such as the buying experience, or some sort of cult-like following. And it’s a hard thing to foster. Early Saturn cars created this passion, partly because of the way they were sold, and partly because of an unexpected reputation for helping occupants survive horrific crashes. And we all know about fanaticism for Apple products — even in the early 90s when it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to be passionate about Apple products.

4. Appearances. Customers buy something to make a statement. BMWs and Subarus. Rolex watches. Brooks Brothers suits. Even something as mundane as Target. (How many of you have told a friend about a great shelf or shirt you found at Target? Now how many of you have said the same about something you’ve found at Walmart?)

5. Laziness. (Okay, perhaps this is not a motivation to aspire to.) Essentially, customers don’t have any really strong reason to change brands, so they stick with what they’re already doing. Or, in the case of some brands (some cable providers come to mind), customers feel the hassle of changing isn’t worth the benefit, no matter how frustrated they may be with a company.

6. Economic. Customers have some monetary reason to patronize a business. Coupons. Deals. Locality. Even affinity programs, such as frequent flyer miles or credit card rewards. It could be even as basic as price (although this is a very dangerous foundation to build loyalty on, as someone can almost ALWAYS undercut you on price).

Is there one of these reasons your company already commands brand loyalty? And are you doing everything you can to capitalize on your “loyalty advantage”?

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