How to Foster Brand Loyalty in Digital Natives

Brand loyalty is profoundly important to many companies, particularly those marketing to consumers. But increasingly, marketers are realizing that establishing or reinvigorating brand loyalty in digital natives may be quite different than doing so with older generations.

Brands need to appeal to shared values, such as teamwork, to foster brand loyalty.

The term “digital natives,” of course, is generally used to refer to younger people who grew up with digital devices. They tend to use digital methods both to shop and to interact with brands. Some marketers, in addition, use “digital native” as an adjectival term to refer to brands that are available online.

If we use only the first definition, how best can brand loyalty be fostered?

Segment the Market and More

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School recently devoted a podcast to this topic with two professors. Their advice? First, segment the market appropriately. Both Millennials (born roughly from 1980 to 1996) and Generation Z (born 1997 and after) are digital natives, for example. But in terms of technology news, they are quite distinct.

Even within the generational cohort names, age matters. Millennials, for example, can be close to 40 or in their mid-20s. Appeals to brand loyalty need to reflect their ages as much as their generational identification.

Within that segmentation, marketers need to craft appealing messages for brands. Marlboro, for example, has successful revitalized itself for new generations. But Campbell’s struggles, because the current emphasis on healthy and fresh foods is somewhat at odds with the canned soup that has additives.

Oldsmobile, an older car brand, stands as a cautionary tale of how not to approach younger generations. The professors point out that Oldsmobile tried to rebrand itself with the tagline “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile” in the late 1980s. But the spokespeople chosen were in fact associated with the 1960s/1970s generation, like former Beatle Ringo Starr. The campaign fell flat.

Social Media Is Key

Not surprisingly, social media is viewed as key to reinvigorating brands for digital natives. Brand loyalty for older generations was frequently partly created by memorable television ads and radio jingles. Though both still exist, they are passé as methods of appealing to new generations. Social media, from Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat and more, are not.

Social media allow brands to communicate the chief ingredient of brand loyalty: the sense of shared values. Observers caution that shared values are one of the only guarantees of continued brand loyalty. Business leadership shouldn’t conflate habit — picking up the same product because it’s a known quantity and has been used before — with genuine loyalty.

Social media also affords digital natives a space to do what they like. They become brand influencers by interacting with the brand. Digital natives tend to interact with brand messaging much more than older generations, and social media provides that avenue.

Businesses would do well to treat digital natives as co-creators of their brand message. Comments and feedback should be monitored, responded to, and brand messages should be realigned as necessary to incorporate social media feedback.

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