Are there still ‘loyal’ customers in 2017?

I choose to buy Heinz tomato ketchup even though my local shop sometimes runs out of it, and it’s more expensive than the supermarket’s own brand. By consistently buying that product, regardless of price or convenience, I’m showing brand loyalty. But with so much consumer choice, we’re becoming more and more fickle. How can brands – whether big, global corporations or small, local businesses – convince people to buy goods or services only from them over others?

The picture has changed. We’re no longer exposed just to big-budget advertising from the brands with the most money. We have the option of googling to find the best prices. We can tell companies what we think of them over social media. We can find out what other people think before we get anywhere near to buying, by reading reviews.

Some customers will always buy on price alone, so as soon as that 50% off deal comes along from your competitor, you’re on a losing streak. But alongside this, more than ever, consumers want to love and feel a personal connection to the brands they buy, and this is something that every business can and should capitalise on.

We want brands to share our values. In 2017 consumers have a social conscience. Companies have taken this on, funnelling money into Corporate Social Responsibility and showing that they’re ‘doing good’. The Gap, notorious once upon a time for its sweat shops, has very publicly changed direction by improving factory working conditions, and also pledges that 100% of its cotton will come from more sustainable sources by 2021.

We want to have a good experience. We won’t put up with second-class service, and we know we don’t have to. With the threat of social media looming over every company who gives their customers a bad experience, brands have to become more responsive to criticism. One restaurant in the USA famously put themselves out of business by arguing with customers on Facebook.

We want to have a conversation. Again, the dynamic of marketing has changed so much that we are able to have a two-way dialogue rather than be ‘talked at’ through advertising. We can help to change and shape brands in this way. You may remember the three year old child who wrote to Sainsbury’s pointing out that their tiger bread looked more like giraffe bread.

We want brands to tackle the issues of the day. As well as aligning with our values, brands also have to become more flexible and adaptable in responding to what’s happening in the world. The huge issue of sugar consumption could very well have been the death of a brand like Coca-Cola but, instead, they’re using it apparently successfully to showcase their array of sugar-free and lower-sugar products.

We listen to other people. Word of mouth is key. If your friends like a brand and tell you about it, you’re more likely to think positively about it – and vice versa if they hate it. This is true even for people you don’t know – most of us will have made a decision about a hotel by reading reviews on TripAdvisor, or chosen between two restaurants by looking at opinions on a forum like OpenTable.

The factor connecting all of these is continually listening to and talking with your customers, taking on board their feedback. Understanding what they need, what they want and what they care about could be the difference between a one-off purchase based on price, and a customer who’s loyal for life.