Some customers never switch brands. Regardless of how badly let down they are, how poor the performance of the organization and even, in some instances, with a deep personal dislike, bordering on hatred, for the employees and management. They may reduce their consumption, but switch to a competitor? Impossible!
Let’s leave The World Cup aside for a moment (although clearly my muse today). National pride and identity is so closely tied into this event that you can’t abandon your brand without abandoning your country – that’s a pretty significant switching cost. Like it or not – and they don’t right now – the citizens of France are tied to their national team. So instead, let’s talk about club level sport.
Clearly, brand performance is not necessarily the basis for brand selection or loyalty. You wouldn’t follow Leeds United down the tables, or become a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan if superior performance of your brand was the entire basis for choice. Assuming that we get more utility from our brand winning, rather than losing, we should all behave more like those sport watchers who just woke up one morning and decided to support The Lakers, or Chelsea. But in most instances we don’t. We have huge switching costs, based on a sense of loyalty to the brand that surpasses all elements of brand performance.
Growing up in Liverpool, I wasn’t presented with a choice as to which team to support. I was told, earlier than I remember that I was a Liverpool supporter. As it happened, Liverpool was doing quite well at the time (now I’m showing my age) but that wasn’t the point. I was expected to be loyal forever, win lose or draw. This was my brand, my team.
Is there anything we can learn from this? Clearly I’m at risk of stretching beyond all logic a topical item if we try and figure out the underlying meaning of NPS from the behavior of sports fans. However, it does remind me of things we know about brand behavior. First, group behavior matters, we want to be part of a crowd. If everyone around you supports a team (which, with teams tied to geography, frequently happens) your affinity for the brand provides you with a sense of group benefits. If, like you, all your friends love their iphone, that gives you group benefits. If everyone has positive word of mouth, so much the better, but being outside the crowd is lonely even if you feel you have a superior product based on your own experience. Ask Zune fans.
And loyalty is clearly a human emotion. We are not entirely rational in our choice of brands. Logic is not the only basis of loyalty, we are human after all. Our brand memory of better days may well prompt loyalty well beyond the point where performance has long fallen off.
So, back to the TV to see if England can win The World Cup. In this instance, my positive brand memory is in black-and-white, and I hadn’t learned to walk, that’s how long ago it was.