"Package-Goods Brands Lose Loyalists in Recession." So reads the article headline on AdAge.com today. The gist of the article is that as the recession has bore on, brand loyalty has suffered, with over half of the consumers who said they were highly loyal to a brand in 2007 becoming significantly less so a year later.
The article points out that brands like Coca-Cola, J.M. Smuckers', Folgers, and Thomas' English Muffins came out much better - they "kept more than 60% of their highly loyal consumers from 2007; Coke and Thomas' retained more than three-quarters."
Conclusions from the article: the more brands spent, the better they fared; and losing brand loyalists is costly.
So, here's the problem I have with all this. The actual definition of loyal is:
"unswerving in allegiance"
Notice the first word - UNSWERVING. When half of your 'loyalists' desert you when times get rough, it is hard to consider them loyal in the first place. They might have been friends, but you certainly weren't married.
In fact, given that brands that spent more fared better, one can begin to question whether loyalty truly exists in brand relationships. Many studies have pointed out that your most 'loyal' consumers are quite often your least profitable. This is because 'loyalty' is often confused with 'bribery.'
Here's a hint - if your 'loyal' consumers jump ship based on price or promotions, they were never loyal to begin with. Your relationship with them was a fleeting one of convenience and affordability/value and they dumped you as soon as something better/more convenience/more affordable/more valuable came along.
You would never talk about how many of your loyal friends ditched you when you were going through a problem period. The very fact that they are loyal would imply that they stuck with you through thick and thin, better and worse, etc...
So don't fool yourself by talking about your consumers/customers as loyal just because they keep buying from you (mostly on deal, coupon, or special offers). Your TRULY loyal consumers are those who won't switch based on price or deals - they are the ones who somehow have created a bond with your brand that is strong enough to weather the ups and downs of relationships.
There are lots of studies, thoughts and opinions on 'brand loyalty.' However, I think that the world of marketing would benefit greatly by a change of terms in this field, as the word 'loyalty' implies things about your consumers that, most often, are far from the truth...