A reality check from Tina Turner for brand managers: most customer/brand relationships are marriages of convenience not finding a soul-mate. There are plenty of annulments, divorces, and lots of sleeping around.
Keep a brand diary for a day of every brand you use; you don't have to include brand messages, just what you use. I bet you'll record using over 100 brands in a day. (I got to 77 by 2 p.m. and got too tired to continue). For example, when I make coffee in the morning, the faucet, countertop, coffee maker, filter, coffee, cup, and silverware all have brand names so the number of brands gets big real fast. Now also record how many of those you really care about, where you would grieve if the brand were no longer available. Don't be surprised if it is only a handful. Over the course of the day, I recorded that I really cared about only 10% of the brands I used.
That 10% number might be a magic number. While everyone knows about the bell curve, and while the long-tail power distribution is flavor of the month, the most important curve of all might be the U-shape (a beta distribution for fellow geeks.) The U-shape describes the distribution of preferences. It tells us that most people will never consider you, there is an uptick of those who do, in fact, love you, but most of your buyers are distributed in-between. They might or might not buy you on a given purchase; it depends. The U-shape is amazingly accurate at relating brands' market shares to their purchase loyalty and it tells us that for most brands only 10% to 15% of buyers are really loyal or engaged with a brand.
Can this be right? I mean Coke has 3.5 million fans on Facebook and Starbucks has 2.5 million. But think about those numbers relative to how many drink a Coke in a week or go into a Starbucks. That 10% number is starting to make a lot of sense, right?
For 85% to 90% of your customers, your brand image, salience, familiarity are important ways to simplify their choices and you will get picked sometimes but not always. It's more "the dating game" than love. Nothing wrong with that, but is your marketing program paying attention to those customers that I'll call the "silent majority" or just the ones who want to friend you, tweet you, and blog about you?
These really loyal buyers are certainly worth more; the math of the U-shape tells us they probably account for 50% or so of sales (and maybe more considering word of mouth) but you can't ignore the "silent majority." Is your marketing program multi-layered and also geared to grow that sales base?
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Joel Rubinson is Chief Research Officer at The ARF, where he directs the organization's priorities and initiatives on behalf of 400+ advertisers, advertising agencies, associations, research firms, and media companies. Joel is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and an active blogger. He holds an MBA in statistics and economics from the University of Chicago and a BS from NYU and never leaves home without his harmonica. Follow him on Twitter: @joelrubinson.