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Goodbye to old routines

The lockdown has reminded brands of what is important in establishing loyalty that transcends occasion or habit, writes Dave Lawrence, Planning Partner at Brave.

Dave Lawrence, Brave

Planning Partner

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How long does it take to form a new habit? Sixty-six days according to University College London’s Dr Phillippa Lally, which is how long we’ve been in lockdown in the UK, give or take the odd day.

So, it stands to reason that this period of enforced isolation has lasted long enough to break habits around brand use. This can work in one of two ways for businesses: it can present an opportunity for those fleet of foot or well-placed to step in to meet post-lockdown behaviours but it is also a threat to brands relying on established occasion purchasing.

COVID-19 has been devastating and dramatic; most of us have not seen such a behaviourally disruptive force in our lifetimes, certainly not one so universally felt. So, if ever brand owners needed it, now is time to reconsider the basis of their customer affiliation; to face the fundamental issue of emotional loyalty versus practical convenience and recognise that brands may have misread mindful loyalty for mindless habit.

Emotions have been heightened throughout this experience and so the feelings of being supported, or let down, by brands are strong. Brand consumption based purely on familiarity and occasions has been at particular risk in lockdown; indeed, it is always vulnerable when change is forced upon us. Brand use longevity is better forged when it satisfies relevant and powerful need states, as these prevail, whatever the occasion.

While some need states are intrinsically linked to a key time of day, it is beholden on brands to demonstrate and remind consumers of the broader relevance and frequency of those same need states, whatever the time or occasion.

Smart brands have looked to bridge the gap between purchase and presence during lockdown.

Dave Lawrence

The experience of lockdown has been an unwelcome wake-up call for some businesses, exposing that complacency has set in, where nurturing was required. COVID-19 has been a trigger for people to reconsider how much brands have taken their custom for granted and, combined with the removal of occasion-based routines, many will switch their allegiance. How much can that convenient Costa fix between the station and the office be satisfied by an alternative caffeine fix that may be much closer to home?

Smart brands have looked to bridge the gap between purchase and presence during lockdown. Some have given their customers recipes to help them recreate the brand experience at home or offered home delivery. These actions will have endeared the brand to its customers, keeping its fanbase passions alive and demonstrating a degree of trust that will be rewarded.

As with any broken relationship, brands must emotionally reconnect by making it personal and heartfelt. For instance, KFC amusingly recognised people’s homemade fried chicken attempts in its recent ad, while alerting customers to its resumption of home delivery. Some brands will need to show how much consumers have been missed by rewarding their return with small gestures of gratitude to show they are valued.

The lockdown has reminded brands of what is important in establishing loyalty that transcends occasion or habit.

Dave Lawrence

For some brands that are regularly consumed, their value to consumers can be forgotten, a mild case of familiarity breeds contempt. For such products, depravation theory is often applied in market research, where people must spend a period of time not using that brand. Only then, can people truly express how they feel about the brand, working on the theory that absence makes the heart grow fonder. In a similar fashion, the lockdown has deprived many people of the daily treats they were accustomed to; after that enforced period of fasting, brands can remind people just how much they have missed them. We’ve already seen the long car queues outside the recently re-opened drive-through McDonalds.

As we gradually edge out of lockdown, new routines will develop, but they may not be as uniform and time dependent as previously. The lockdown has reminded brands of what is important in establishing loyalty that transcends occasion or habit. It has highlighted how dangerous it is to create a positioning purely on occasion rather than through satisfying need states, expressing the higher purpose brand values, or building rich and fulfilling personal relationships.

Occasions and behavioural habits are a vital means of driving consumption frequency, but they are not, and never should be, a substitute for brand love.

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Habit Loyalty