PR can support marketing on both fronts
Marketers spend billions every year to build loyalty for their brands, but does it work? Is there, in fact, such a thing as brand loyalty anymore?
Look back 40 or 50 years and brand loyalty was a very real fact of life. I can remember as a kid having friends whose father was “a diehard Buick man” or “a loyal Ford man.” They’d had good experience with the brand, and they felt it fit their image and their budget. Every car they purchased would be from that marque. It was the same for appliances, healthcare products, food items. Wonder Bread “built strong bodies 12 ways” and that was that. Why consider anything else?
On the retail side, many consumers felt a loyalty to specific stores, for a variety of reasons. They liked a store’s merchandise selection, the ads made them feel it was their kind of store, they appreciated the personal attention and good customer service. Price often didn’t figure much into the equation.
But that was 50 years ago… before consumers began reacting more to price. Once price became the major factor, loyalty pretty much went out the door.
So it’s not surprising to see some recent research showing consumers place little value on brand loyalty when it comes to buying decisions these days. A study reported recently in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily shows a major deciding factor is now consumer research.
Let’s look at the loyalty part first. The report says only three percent of consumers in the 25 -49 age group surveyed indicate brand loyalty as a major factor in their purchase decisions.
I wouldn’t take that as a sign for marketers to abandon their consumer relations and community relations goodwill efforts. Community relations to build loyalty can save a brand’s hide when disaster strikes. Fast food chains, for example, have been able to weather things ranging from rat infestation to being blamed for the nation’s obesity problem because they’ve built up a level of trust with the public. Jet Blue weathered a spate of horrendous news when they treated passengers poorly on some planes stranded on the runway in bad weather. But they came out ok because they had built up what some call “a trust bank” of goodwill, understanding and loyalty.
So public relations efforts aimed at building trust and loyalty are still very important, in my opinion. Even if loyalty doesn’t boost sales quarter-to-quarter, it can save a brand from sinking when bad news hits.
Now let’s look at the other key finding in the report cited in Marketing Daily. Forty-three percent of those surveyed say they base their purchase decision largely on research. Of those, 97 percent do their research online.
And what do people find online? Articles and product reviews from newspapers, magazines and, increasingly, e-zines and blogs. Where do many of those articles and reviews originate? From material and media contact from PR sources.
The bottom line, as I see it, is that public relations isa viable and effective part of the marketing mix, even as consumer buying habits change. PR programming can helpthe results come up favorably when consumers do their research. And it can be crucial in building that loyalty and understanding that might end up being a lifesaver if and when disaster strikes a brand.