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Thought Piece: HOW SPORT BRANDS ACHIEVED UNPARALLELED LOYALTY 17th February 2020

By Becky Mailen, Client Services Director at I-AM London 

This piece will look at the brands that become completely adored by their consumers, and how it is that they achieve this status, this irrational loyalty. I will showcase examples of brands that have built a following and a commitment from their consumers that is unlike many others and how they achieve true and deep, brand loyalty.

Loyalty is defined as being faithful to someone or something. This can be expressed as support or allegiance brought to life through a person’s actions and decisions. Irrational loyalty is when those decisions or actions are always aligned with your brand to the point that the thought of buying another brand feels like cheating. This loyalty is essential to ensure the continued success of your business, winning new customers, but more importantly retaining your existing ones.

“ON AVERAGE, LOYAL CUSTOMERS ARE WORTH UP TO 10 TIMES AS MUCH AS THEIR FIRST PURCHASE.”

White House of Consumer Affairs (Washington DC)

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At a very young age, 8 to be exact, I remember desperately wanting a pair of Nike trainers, the knock off version from Brantano were not going to cut it. Eventually, the grey and lime green Nike Air Max 95 were going to be mine. Bringing my new trainers’ home in their box, with that smell that all new trainers have, I was ecstatic. These weren’t just trainers; looking back they felt like they stood for something more, a statement about who I was trying to be. They were also the start of my obsession with the Nike brand, and brands in general.

I hate to admit it, but yes, brands matter. They feel defining, representative and play a part in expressing personality.

Even if you abstain from brands isn’t that itself saying something?

According to Kevin Roberts ex CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi, some brands achieve the status of “lovemarks”, transcending the traditional brand to create “loyalty beyond reason”. It is these brands that others typically aspire to, they want to be known for the way that consumers talk about them, creating a momentum and a following that many brands struggle to achieve. So why do some brands have such a following? Almost a cult like obsession? And is there anything you can do to harness some of that power?

“90% OF ALL PURCHASING DECISIONS ARE MADE SUBCONSCIOUSLY. THEY’RE BASED ON

THE EMOTIONS AND FEELINGS A PERSON HAS TOWARDS A PARTICULAR BRAND”

Martin Lindstrom, Time Magazine ‘2009 Time 100’

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Image source: shutterstock

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The sports market in America is now expected to be worth $73.5bn (Forbes, 2015), this is no small number and shows the influence that sports brands can and do have on the consumer landscape. Whilst not exclusive, I do believe that sports brands excel at creating a self-perpetuating momentum that builds their loyalty, often something that is rarely seen in other sectors. It is not often that someone will tell you how much they love their financial brand, their insurance provider, their supermarket, but ask them about their sports team or even the brand they wear and they will give you irrational reasons as to why they love them.

Many companies offer similar products, the successful brands are the ones that consumers want rather than just need. That is because they provide more than functional value, they make them feel. Mullin et al (2007) state that “sports products have the ability to elicit passions and commitments and have strong personal and emotional identification”. Sports brands have shown great evidence in building emotional connections with consumers, something every brand is trying to achieve. If we look at some of the big sport brands and their approach in connecting with their consumers, we can notice a pattern in how they build meaningful and touching stories that induce emotion.

“75% OF BUYING EXPERIENCES ARE BASED ON EMOTION. CONNECT EMOTIONALLY IS A MUST.”

MASHABLE UK

 

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Image source: NIKE , Find your Greatness  (2012)

A perfect reference to start with is Nike and their campaigns, from the Michael Jordan ‘Failure’ commercial to the likes of Dream Further and Nike: Equality

These campaigns help to move Nike from an aspirational brand – encouraging consumers to look up to and be like the athletes that wear the brand, towards becoming more inspirational – encouraging consumers to be the best athlete that they can be. It is now about the consumers’ themselves and not the person they are emulating which improves resonance with the customer. It is fair to say that Nike has successfully devised their brand to mean something to everyone and has slowly shifted from a product focus to and attitude focus in order to do this.

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Image source: NIKE, Dream Crazier  (2019)

“65% OF CONSUMERS BUY ON THE BASIS OF THEIR BELIEFS”

EDELMAN(2017)

Even the athletes and teams that the brands sponsor are the embodiment of the brand and this in turn creates yet more passion. Nike choose their athletes based on their success in their sport and also their beliefs. Serena Williams is not only the greatest female tennis player of all time but she has strong views and beliefs about female empowerment through sport, she stands for something and as such gives Nike a platform to connect with their consumers through their sponsorship of her  – as seen in Dream Crazier.

This change in focus from product led to attitude led; from athletes simply fronting campaigns and products, can be seen in Adidas’s campaigns and their emphasis on the involvement of the celebrities in the design of the product itself, making it more attractive to consumers. The latest instance of this is Adidas’ collaboration with Beyonce, also a key attempt to appealing to a wider athleisure market. This heavier involvement from celebrities, also seen across New Balance “Declare your Independence” and Under Armour “Will makes us family”, feels more authentic and implies a genuine connection with the brand that they are supporting rather than simply putting their face to the product.

I believe that in addition to this enhanced celebrity relationship, it is these brands commitment to their physical presence that allows them to build more of a connection with consumers, they provide a destination for fans to gather. Nike is the prime example of this, across its brand experience Nike doesn’t let its customers down, it doesn’t focus just on the product but allows the customer to engage with the brand, evidence of that is their latest ‘House of Innovation’ New York flagship store. The brand also makes sure that it is consistently improving and leading the way in digital retail. This can be seen across its digitally integrated or tech enhanced initiatives such as Nike’s SNKRS app and its gamified campaign Nike:REACT.

“CONSUMERS WHO ARE EMOTIONALLY CONNECTED TO A BRAND ARE WORTH TWO TIMES MORE TO A BUSINESS THAN THE AVERAGE HIGHLY SATISFIED CUSTOMER.”

Harvard Business Review

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Image (Left): Adidas BVG Collaboration                            Image(Right): NIKE SNKRS APP

Adidas is another example of how brands are working to strengthen their relationship and loyalty with audiences by focusing their strategy on a local level. Adidas Originals launched a TFL collaboration last year, introducing their iconic designs with a twist, inspired by London’s underground lines and colour palette. This collection aimed to celebrate “the heartbeat that keeps London moving 24/7”, a hyper local campaign. In the same realm, Adidas also partnered with the Berlin metro BVG, creating a new trainer featuring the same camouflage pattern used on the city’s train seats, and doubling up as an annual transit pass.

This type of product development strengthened through campaign isn’t only a showcase of creativity but a way of penetrating saturated and competitive markets. They are not only catering to the brands targets audience but aligning with their attitudes. Moreover, rivalling the tech-led Nike Innovation Houses, is Adidas latest App-powered London flagship store, connecting visitors with in-store staff and experiences across 100 tech touchpoints, powered by green energy and integrated within the physical experience.

Across the above references, we can see how the campaigns, products, stores and communication must all represent the brand so thoroughly that the entire experience is on brand, at all times. Consumers expectations of what the brand is going to deliver must be met every time, across every touchpoint.

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Image (Left): Adidas London Flagship -Changing  rooms using RFID Image (Right): Adidas London Flagship Store, 2019

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“IN A 2016 STUDY, THEY FOUND THAT WHEN INDIVIDUALS HAVE A POSITIVE EMOTIONAL ASSOCIATION WITH A SPECIFIC BRAND, THEY ARE 8.4 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO TRUST THE COMPANY, 7.1 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO PURCHASE MORE AND 6.6 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO FORGIVE A COMPANY’S MISTAKE.”

Tempkin Group, Experience Ratings

Kevin Roberts states that lovemarks are defined by mystery, sensuality and intimacy and that these are the significant characteristics that differentiate them from ‘standard’ brands. Times have moved on since this industry defining book was written however, and as Kevin Roberts himself states, the ingredients that make a lovemark have changed. The difference now lies in the experience and becoming integral to your customers lifestyle by aligning with their attitude, not just their product preference.

`Lovemarks’ are the embodiment of a brand lead by the heart, whereas many brands present their information in a way that is rational and appeals to the head.

Love Marks by IAM adapted from Kevin Roberts

Sports brands seem to have found the secret for achieving that elusive status of “lovemark”. They have managed to build long term love affairs, consistently connecting with the customers’ needs, aspirations and lifestyle and evolving with them. Time and time again. Not everyone will feel this, maybe it takes a slightly irrational person to believe that a brand can make you…better. But isn’t that what most brands are setting out to do? Make people believe that life can be easier, better, more enjoyable if they do it using their brand?

Brands aren’t going anywhere, but they are changing. Again. More and more brands should be looking to harness the power of the physical environment to build their presence and their following. “Crafting an experiential brand culture should already be considered a default setting, to meet a swelling consumer appetite across all generations that centres on what retail can offer them beyond ‘things’”(Stylus, 2019). This is the time when strong brand communities will thrive and brand love will be because of passion. Creating with the aim of building a connection with your audience is crucial to reach irrational loyalty. Investing in developing your relationship with your consumers is essential and not optional; and finding the relevant ways to do that, will make the difference for the success of your brand in the future.

At the end of the day it is the customer that determines how loved the brand is, if they believe that it sends the right message to the world and to themselves about who they are as a person, then they will keep buying your products and services. Go back to basics and make sure they’re happy, give them a reason to love your brand. That way, there is a far higher chance of being a brand that has the status of “lovemark” and is adored, and not just a brand that people….like. As Brian Chesky of Air bnb said “it’s better to have 100 people love you than a million people that sort of like you” (Inc.com, 2016).

TOP TIPS

  • RELATE TO ATTITUDE.

Inspire your consumers to be better versions of themselves through the support of those they emulate. Your brand can help them be, them.

  • STORYTELLING. ESPECIALLY WITHIN THEIR PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT.

Don’t rely on product as the centrepiece, build a brand experience “temple” that can connect with consumers on an emotional level, and tell your story in an inspirational, engaging way. This is us, this is what we believe in, this is what we stand for.

  • COHERENT EXPECTATIONS.

Use every touchpoint physical and digital, to provide a coherent experience no matter the interaction. There is an expectation from today’s consumers that no matter where you are, it’s clear who you are.

  • LIFESTYLE ENCAPSULATION.

Offer more than just a product, be part of your customers lives and show you understand their lifestyles. Ensure your brand values are at the centre of the experience you are offering.