Apple Brand LoyaltyPromotional products are all about raising the level of awareness of your brand in your target market. Regardless of the product or industry, we’re all looking to build brand loyalty and find the dream customer or client who loves what you offer and keeps coming back for more. Here’s a question to consider, however: should you take your strategy a step further by building an emotional connection with the consumer and turning brand loyalty into brand affinity?

Understanding Brand Loyalty And Brand Affinity

The digital world that we live in offers marketers and businesses the opportunity to go beyond mere brand loyalty. By engaging with online communities in a meaningful way and forging a personal connection with consumers, a brand can build a powerful (and potentially beneficial) affinity with customers.

First, however, it’s imperative that businesses understand the difference between brand loyalty and brand affinity. After that, they can begin to consider ways to take that extra step.

Debbie DeGabrielle, CMO of Visible Technologies, offers a succinct definition of brand loyalty: it’s “about buying a product because it stands for something, such as purity, or because it is a known quantity (e.g., familiar to you). The consumer thinks, ‘It works, I like it, I buy it.’”

Making that sort of connection with a consumer is a good thing, but keep in mind that it can only go so far. Your customer likes what you do and comes back for more, but what if this “loyalty” is just a habit? It’s sometimes easy to mistake apathy for loyalty—and it’s an important distinction to make. If your customers are loyal only out of habit, you run the risk of their loyalty being swayed by competing price promotions or a change in your merchandising. When that happens, you’ve lost the potential to grow your business with that customer (and, by extension, that customer’s network—in today’s increasingly digital business climate and the ease of social sharing, word-of-mouth marketing has never been more important.).

What if you could forge a stronger, more emotional tie with that customer? That’s where brand affinity comes in. When you achieve brand affinity, it means your customer has made an emotional connection with your brand. Think of Apple, for example. People wait in line hours for iPhones. Many Apple fans won’t buy any tech gadgets except Apple products. And they’re vocal about them, too. In this instance, consumers aren’t just passionate about a certain product—they’re aspiring to a lifestyle that they think a particular brand represents. Another example? Alaska Airlines, which consistently rates highly with people who haven’t flown with them because of endorsements of those who do. Or FedEx, which used social media to tell the story of how they helped to transport turtle eggs after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, something that forged a strong emotional connection between FedEx and consumers.

Building Brand Affinity

Building brand affinity with your consumers is certainly possible, but it’s important to realize that achieving it takes some strategy and planning and it’s not something that can be forced or manufactured.

To start, try tapping into the power of your social networks. Listen to online communities to hear what people are saying about your brand and try to interact with them on a personal level. Having a better understanding of your customers’ concerns also gives you the opportunity to provide a higher level of customer service. There’s a lot of evidence that customers have an improved perception of brands that deal with online complaints or issues in a prompt and effective way.

Keep this perspective in mind, because it’s a valuable one: your customers have problems and pain points. The faster and more efficiently you can help them solve these problems, the happier they’ll be—and the greater your chances at building true brand affinity.

As you tap into the power of the Internet to monitor what’s being said about your company or products, don’t overlook opportunities to share information, too. By keeping your customers informed and up-to-date, they’ll feel more involved and invested in your company—those traits help pave the way to brand affinity. Plus, establishing strong personal connections with your customers means that they’ll be more likely to spread the word about your brand in a positive way, which is why it’s so important to think about your online social networks as an opportunity to connect with people in a meaningful way and to improve their perceptions of your brand.

Let consumers engage with you in their own social communities. You’ll not only help build brand loyalty—you’ll encourage that loyalty to evolve into a deeper, more fruitful connection.

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