Learn The Psychology Behind Creating Rabidly Loyal Customers

by Gregory Ciotti

Last updated on March 9th, 2018

All marketers are concerned with “customer loyalty”, and it’s no surprise why.  Many of today’s most successful brands have a cult-like following with loyal customers lining up to buy their products and services.

Loyal customers are also an outstanding source of word-of-mouth marketing.

The question: How can you create rabidly loyal customers?

You’ll find the answer revealed in rigorously tested social psychology research; it seems that brand loyalty really is “all in our heads”. Today we’ll look at 3 studies that reveal how to create loyalty in a crowded world.

1.) Label Your Customers

At first glance, this seems like horrible advice, especially for brands in North America (where people generally value individuality).

As it turns out, your customers actually like being labeled!

In research coming from Stanford University, Christopher Bryan and colleagues tested how labeling people as “politically active” would affect their overall voter turnout.

They conducted the study by splitting participants into two groups, asking them their regular voting habits, and then telling one group nothing (control group) and the other group that they were “deemed to be more politically active.”

(None of that was true, those in the second group were randomly selected)

The results?

People in the second group had a 15+% higher turnout rate than the control group, despite being randomly selected!

The researchers concluded that people DO like being labeled as long as it implies some sort of superior characteristic (such as being a responsible voter).

If you look at complimentary research on customer loyalty programs, you’ll see that those people in the “gold” club also spent more… as long as they knew there was an inferior group.

Label your customers as desirable, and they’ll see your brand as more desirable.

The good folks over at Copyblogger do an outstanding job of this with their brilliantly name “Internet Marketing For Smart People” email list.

Copyblogger Email List

2.) Make an Enemy

Want to know why Apple products trigger the same feelings and reactions in people as religion?

Simple: the loyalty was created out of an enemy.

Let me explain…

In the renowned study Social categorization and intergroup behaviour, psychologist Henri Tajfel sought the answer to a question that has plagued mankind throughout history: What do normal people discriminate against others?

His findings were QUITE shocking…

What he found was that given the most trivial of distinctions, he could artificially create loyalties to a particular group, a group that would then discriminate against those not in the group, for seemingly no justifiable reason.

In one study, participants were asked to choose between two painters who they had no connection with. They were then separated into groups based off of these decisions.

Surprisingly, when it came time to dole out REAL rewards, they actively discriminated against the “other” group and favored their in-group, despite the fact that the choices were meaningless!

Tajifel showed that it takes an enemy in order to separate people into such loyal groups… but you don’t need a physical enemy.

While Apple targeted Microsoft, they also targeted “boring” PC users and their uncool computers.

Today, Samsung is employing this same tactci by labeling iPhone users as outdated and foolish in their latest Galaxy S3 commercial.

Galaxy s3

Who could you target as an undesirable idea, belief, or standard?

Do you have an enemy?

3.) Stand for Something

So above we’ve talked about making enemies, but what about making friends?

People do care about being included with a brand’s message, but only when they share the same values. In fact, for those who have stated that they have a strong relationship with a single brand, over 64% said it was because they had a “shared value” with the brand in question.

Does your brand stand for something?

According to findings from the CEB, people don’t seem to be very loyal to companies at all.  They are loyal to what the company stands for.

One great example comes to us from Tom’s Shoes, a brand that many would claim shows the “real deal” when it comes to making legitimate stands about their beliefs and cause outside of their business, and who don’t just “tack-on” a stand for marketing’s sake.

Toms Shoes

Take a look at Zappos: CEO Tony Hsieh defines the company not as an online store that sells shoes, but rather as a “customer service company that happens to sell shoes.” This sort of stance isn’t tacked on, it’s been duly noted just how far Zappos will go to ensure an amazing customer experience.

Bottom line: Don’t fool yourself into believing that people love your business. They may enjoy your products, but the most loyal customers love what you stand for and how you can help them; make it easy to see just what you’re about.

Your Turn!

What did you think about the studies above? How do you create loyal customers?

Be sure to let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!



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Gregory Ciotti

Gregory Ciotti is the marketing guy at Help Scout, the invisible help desk software that makes email support a breeze for you and your customers. Get more from Greg on the Help Scout customer loyalty blog.


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  1. arshops says:
    August 23, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    nice topic thanks

  2. October 23, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Nice article. You can see how this applies to many brands. I have seen Howard Stern do this over and over again by creating a common enemy (Don Imus, The FCC, Etc.) to create a following. When you take a stand on issue aren’t you worried about dividing your audience? Or is that the point?

    • October 23, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      Thanks Adam,

      I wouldn’t say you are dividing YOUR audience, you are dividing your audience from the REST of your market.

      It’s rarely a good idea to ostracize your ideal customers, the point of this separation is to divide those ideal customers from not-so-ideal ones that may also be in your market.

  3. October 18, 2012 at 10:43 am

    http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html — I’ve watched this one too. It’s a great TED talk.

    • Russ Henneberry says:
      October 18, 2012 at 11:03 am

      Hey Thanks Gregg!

    • October 23, 2012 at 5:16 pm

      One of my favorite TED talks as well, thanks for sharing Gregg!

  4. Ken E Baker says:
    October 18, 2012 at 9:46 am

    As always, another brilliant article. I think a good example of a company that makes the most of this strategy is Apple – how they link the ‘elegant design’ of the iPhone to a supposedly ‘design concious’ person. This also reminds me of a lecture that I watched on TED – on the concept of the Golden Circle by Simon Sinek

    PS: I think point 8 should be numbered as point 3 🙂

    • Russ Henneberry says:
      October 18, 2012 at 9:59 am

      Hi Ken — Thanks so much for pointing out that edit. 🙂 Do you have a link to that TED Talk?

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