Loyalty's Next Frontier: Identity Loyalty

Loyalty is not a program or a feeling; it's a behavior that must be earned over time through consistent actions and shared experiences. In a world where consumers can easily tap, click or swipe between brands, loyalty has never been more critical.

Nurture identity loyalty. Identity loyalty is rooted in a brand actively reflecting customer identity. It aligns its values and aspirations with those of its customers, becoming an extension of their self-perception and aspirations. It goes beyond transactional or emotional loyalty programs and taps into the fundamental human desire for connection, shared purpose, and self-expression.

When done well, identity loyalty invites customers to be a part of something bigger. Brands offer a “membership card” into their world, a place to connect with like-minded individuals. This authentic connection creates a proud army of advocates who shop more and refer others, leading to more profitable long-term customers than any transactional program. 



This is what customers desire. Seventy-five percent of customers abandon brands that conflict with their values (Harris Poll, 2023), and 75% believe brand transparency is more critical post-pandemic (Salesforce, 2022).

Tapping into one's identity to influence behavior is not new; great advertisements have always sold aspirational stories. After the 2008 recession, calls for brands to prioritize purpose over profits grew even louder. The pandemic intensified this, forcing society to reevaluate its values and priorities. We emerged from it craving deeper, more authentic relationships, both with each other -- and yes, with brands. We yearn for a place to belong.

Identity loyalty works because it unlocks two foundational behavioral principles: consistency and unity. Humans have an overwhelming desire to be consistent with their self-identity. When uniting an individual identity with others in a shared manner, the influence on behavior greatly intensifies. As psychologist Robert Cialdini explains, "The more we perceive someone as a part of us, the more likely we are to be influenced by them."

While identity loyalty is emerging, there are ways marketers can leverage this concept today.

Inspire self-expression: Empower customers to express themselves authentically through the brand. Encourage them to share their creations proudly, as Taco Bell partners with celebrities and fans for co-branded creations, showcased through tattoos, art, and fashion.

Foster community: Cultivate a vibrant community that brings customers together around shared interests. Sephora's Beauty Insiders Community unites beauty enthusiasts, encouraging peer-driven beauty expertise and product discovery.

Invest in co-creation: Give customers an active role in shaping the brand. Lego's Idea Platform allows fans to submit ideas for new Lego sets, fostering a sense of ownership and engagement.

By embracing identity loyalty, brands move beyond superficial transactions and create enduring relationships with customers. They become partners in a journey of shared values, aspirations, and experiences that withstand the tests of time, driving long-term customer engagement, advocacy, and ultimately, brand success. 

Simply put, brands must remember that the strongest bonds are built from strong values, not fleeting offers.

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