Walmart

What Online Dating Taught Me About Brand Loyalty

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I’ve often joked that I’m a lifetime member of eHarmony. Which is my way of laughing off the fact that I haven’t found love on the online dating service – despite repeated tries over many months.

Friends have accused me of being too picky, too ambivalent, too idealistic.

As if those are bad traits…

Looking back, I think my first – and gravest – mistake was getting sucked in by those sappy TV commercials and assuming my dream woman would just drop into my virtual lap with little time or effort.

Accordingly, I started developing feelings for my first “match,” based entirely on a fantasy I had concocted around a few breezy email exchanges.

Naive, silly boy.

The fact is, I didn’t have nearly enough data to truly “know” this person, so I relied on my imagination to fill in the blanks.

When we finally met face-to-face, the actual woman showed up (as did the actual man), and there was no actual love connection.

A similar pattern plays out as consumers interact with companies and brands. You develop an initial impression (or fantasy) based on limited data: an ad campaign, a friend’s opinion, a cool logo. It’s only when you have a personal encounter with a specific company/product/service that you get a truly authentic experience. And it usually sticks.

My experience with Apple is a prime example. Raised on PCs, I didn’t have much experience with Apple computers. But I had admired the company’s marketing campaigns and cool factor. When it came time to replace my aging HP, I decided to give Apple a try. Fast-forward a few years, and I’m now a proud and avid user of an iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. I suppose that officially qualifies me as an Apple fanboy, but it’s only because the company lived up to its hype for me.

And speaking of fanboys, my mom most certainly functions as one for Walmart. She lives in a small town and considers it a treat to venture to the shopping mecca and pick up some greeting cards, yarn and a prescription refill. Despite her Walmart enthusiasm, however, I consider a trip to my local Walmart as something akin to being waterboarded. Sure, I appreciate a bargain as much as the next guy, but my first experience with my neighborhood Walmart carries painful memories of derelict crowds, disorganized merchandise, butt-ugly displays and surly sales associates. I’ve gladly decided to place my loyalty and dollars behind Target, a retailer that created what was a far more positive first experience.

For professional service companies, brand preferences most certainly boil down to a personal experience with a specific individual(s). I may opt to have my taxes prepared by H&R Block (if I receive a promotional discount) or a small independent professional (based on a colleague’s recommendation), but my actual experience with a provider will determine whether I choose the same one the following year or look elsewhere.

Which makes me wonder why companies don’t spend more time and money on the hiring and ongoing training of their people.

A glitzy marketing campaign can absolutely create buzz and attract customers.

But it’s the actual consumer experience that builds the brand loyalty that builds brands.