It’s a funny thing, but with practically limitless market choice, 90 per cent of consumers still define themselves as “brand loyal”. As a collective, we tend to find brands we like and stick with them. The challenge for brands is how to generate that loyalty in the first place. Not just because it’s cheaper to keep existing customer than find new ones (and it is), but also because loyal customers often turn into brand advocates, who create more loyal customers, and so on. Basically for free.
Brand loyalty is the secret sauce of business: everyone knows the ingredients that go into it, but the precise alchemy is still mysterious.
“During the pandemic, traditional institutions have been letting us down a bit, so people have reverted to the brands they know. And they’re especially Australian-made brands which signal safety,” says Regina Stroombergen, Lead Creative Tinker at Thinkerbell. “They’re also expecting more from the brands that they trust. We want to know how brands are taking care of their communities and their employees.”
Creativity has become a key part of those expectations. It’s not enough for brands to be loud anymore. They have to be clever, too. In a world of marketing noise, creative brands get cut-through, they’re memorable, they stick in the mind. And studies have shown that, first and foremost, we tend to buy from brands we’re familiar with (over brands we don’t know). The more familiar a consumer becomes with a brand, the more likely they are to trust them. And the more creative and memorable a brand can be, the more familiar they’re going to become.
According to a study in Harvard Business Review, “a euro invested in a highly creative ad campaign had, on average, nearly double the sales impact of a euro spent on a non-creative campaign.” Even factoring in Australian conversion rates, that’s a pretty good return on investment. But creativity isn’t limited to advertising and marketing – it’s much more fundamental than that.
At its heart, creativity is about synthesising seemingly incongruent ideas. Taking two things that have nothing to do with one another and bringing them together in a new and engaging way. A Christmas tree and Mercedes Benz. Eyewear and Vincent Van Gogh. Ants and lollypops. But you can apply that formula to product features, too. Brands who offer their customers creative solutions to everyday problems will have loyal advocates for life.
Australian company Keep Cup is a great example. When Keep Cup launched in 2009, people could only drink coffee out of thermoses, ceramic mugs or (even worse) polystyrene coffee cups. There was no sustainable alternative. The genius of Keep Cup wasn’t just to offer the market a more ethical way to drink coffee, but to think creatively about how their product worked, and how people would use it every day. To that end, Keep Cup made sure their cups fitted under the group head of a standard espresso machine. They re-designed the lid to minimise searing-hot latte spillage. They even added a shallow draft at the bottom to make it easier for baristas to pour aesthetic little hearts and fern leaves.
Local start-up Mr Yum has done a similar thing. Faced with a market problem (during the pandemic, restaurants suddenly needed a contactless way to take orders, check-in patrons and maintain social distancing), Mr Yum quickly pivoted to launch QR code menus, so anyone could order their meal straight from the table. That’s a creative solution that combined an almost defunct, clunky technology (QR codes) with something everybody needs (to eat food safely in restaurants). As a result, Mr Yum has seen massive pick-up, both in Australia and overseas, and was recently named one of Australia’s brightest start-ups.
Of course, creativity alone can’t account for 100 per cent of brand loyalty. Size also plays a part. “The bigger the brand, the more likely people are to stick with it. If you’re a small brand, maybe you do need to be more transparent,” says Stroombergen. “Look at Apple. They’re not the most transparent brand. They do things like intentionally slow people’s phones down, but in my research I’ve found that people still trust Apple because they know what they’re getting, the experience is always the same.”
Transparency is certainly a big part of brand loyalty, but so is customer service, and reliability, ease of use, personalised brand experience, price, conversational marketing and emotional connection. The beauty of creativity is that it can applied to all these elements. Want to make your customers trust your manufacture process? Find a creative way to take them behind the scenes. Struggling to connect emotionally with your audience? Launch a creative ad campaign that taps into an underlying feeling. Your UX team is reporting a drop-off in users? Get creative with your product flow and give customers something they’ve never seen before.
At the end of the day, people are attracted to creative brands for the same reason they’re attracted to creative people. They’re surprising, and unpredictable, and somehow also instantly familiar. The first time your thumb found an Apple scroll wheel, it knew exactly what to do. That’s what keeps you scrolling.