Towards a better understanding of Brand Affinity Relationship Drivers and their Dynamics

The marketing community speaks of loyalty as an idealized state along a linear continuum – a process during which – if we are skillful, can transform customers into ‘life long’ partners fully engaged with our organizations. However that idealized notion of “loyalty” is false on two fronts.

First, the ‘loyalty’ continuum isn’t linear. Second, loyalty does not exist between customers and brands/services – lifelong or otherwise except in rare instances.

PEOPLE are LOYAL to their family, close personal friends, their country…you get the picture. CUSTOMERS have AFFINITIES to brands and services.

Notwithstanding the semantics, affinity is a more accurate term as it better reflects the nuances, the ebbs and flows of a commercial relationship. A relationship where the brand delivers something the customer/user wants or needs. The brand and customer share an emotional bond while continuity of purchase unfolds.

That being said – a brand’s affinity relationship can be understood and managed by focusing on three key aspects:

1. How well the product configuration delivers value – the customer relevant, tangible product attributes and of course the price being charged for them.
2. How well the service/experience has been delivered now and in the past.
3. How well the brand reinforces the value proposition – its attitudinal, emotional and social relevancy linkages.

These aspects manifest themselves in three key phases of an affinity relationship customers can have with brands. Two of these phases are key quantum/transformational drivers, and the last is in constant flux.

Phase 1- Affinity Drivers – Pain:
When you cause pain – you lose customers. You rapidly erode any affinity the customer has with your brand and to the extent your customer(s) can readily extricate themselves from the relationship – they will.

When you can offer relief from pain (caused by others) you will gain customers. Pain is cumulative and has long-term residual memory. That’s why relatively ‘minor’ situations can sometimes escalate into major events.

(insert Brand Relationship diagram)

Customer acquisition and disenfranchisement are quantum change states which come about by capitalizing on your competitor’s mistake or making the mistake yourself. Sometimes you will come across these customers in your acquisition drives – other times – they will come running to you.

While the end state is binary, the pain escalation process is cumulative which allows monitoring of where the brand lies along that continuum. When it will come to a boil is difficult to predict – but one thing is certain – no one willingly spends money with someone that causes them pain. If we are fortunate, the customer will tell us or signal their displeasure by reducing their share of spend before pulling the trigger.

By having an understanding of the cost/benefit analysis for customer rejuvenation/customer acquisition we can better manage the situation. Remember to factor in all the acquisition and maintenance costs for the customer(s) to understand whether this is a customer you want to keep or how much to spend to salvage the relationship.

For example a score of 10 out of a maximum of 100 has been assigned to reflect the ‘strained relationship’. Your own experience will soon identify the appropriate score by evaluating the postmortem scores of exiting customers. Hence you might find that the appropriate drop-off threshold to be 28 or 43 etc. The point being that each brand and each customer segment will have its own drop-off threshold and needs to be monitored appropriately.

For those interested in learning more about pain and pleasure drivers please follow this link to an interesting white paper by Ipsos – “The Role of Customer Delight in Achieving Loyalty.

Phase 2 – Affinity Driver – Service Excellence: Extraordinary service delivery has the ability to be a quantum change state. Service here is in the widest context – it is all the touch points the consumer has with your brand – the retail store environment, the sales people, the call centre, billing, aftermarket support etc…

Defining a reasonable standard is not the challenge. Its bounded by the sensitivity/empathy customer facing agents can honestly convey to customers, the concierge-type service typified by the better quality hotels, the Moment of Truth (MOT) when facing a potentially disastrous situation, the grand slam.

(insert Brand Affinity Relationship diagram)

The difficulty lies in predicting when these MOT’s will arise. If your efforts will be sufficient to create the shift in brand affinities or whether the situation was deemed to be avoidable; and therefore your company’s fault – anyways. In the vast majority of cases, these monumental situations will be serendipitous – defying any advance prediction. Regardless, escalation protocols at key touch points can help ensure that situations are vetted to trained staff for appropriate resolution.

When a successful MOT is secured, the brand affinity score for that individual will see a dramatic rise. Remember though goodwill doesn’t last forever. Judgmentally the half life of the score is going to be approximately 6-12 months depending on the value of transaction, frequency of transaction, importance of transaction. So don’t rest on your laurels. Besides these MOT’s tend to be infrequent and limited in absolute numbers.

Clearly delivering consistent service excellence is a powerful ‘marketing’ tool. One that customers do appreciate and many will pay a premium for. But if you create the expectation, then you must deliver against it or face the dire consequences. Delivering service excellence on a programmed basis however belongs in the discussion of the Phase 3 – affinity driver – the brand value chain.

Phase 3 – Affinity Driver – Brand Value Chain: Management of the brand value chain encompasses the widest part of our brand management efforts. And it is the one aspect that seems to get the least amount of credit from our customers. All those promotions, contests, rewards, events that we tirelessly bestow upon them; let alone the time, effort, ROI justification, pilot testing, stakeholder meetings. DON’T THEY UNDERSTAND???

There is only one way of breaking through the clutter, of ensuring your efforts are properly focused and resources appropriately allocated, that is by focusing on the key differentiating elements of your brand value chain.

(insert Brand Affinity Relationship diagram)

The slope in between the two points (x, y) is a reflection of the differentiated strength of the value chain supporting the brand. By design, the Brand Value Chain should only include the relevant elements the customer places a value on and scored by the customer/customer segments on:

a) the value delivery your brand achieves, your competitors achieve;
b) how much of a differentiator the brand value dimension has in the marketplace;
c) scored on the ability of the brand and competitors to consistently deliver that dimension.

(Insert brand value chain chart)

Measuring consistency is important because it signals the ability of the brand to deliver against its promise. It signals quality. Product centric consistency is relatively easy to achieve as it only involves engineering. The challenge comes in delivering human consistency. Mystery shoppers, employee sensitivity training, motivation/incentive programs help but never guarantee success until the corporate culture supports, embraces and demands it.

You may also find that some of these elements will be valuable but WILL NOT differentiate one brand from another. These are important costs of entry and must be maintained regardless. If the element has limited or no value, fix it or throw it out!

If you survey your competitor’s performance at the same time, you will be able to use that knowledge. Use it to construct a benefit/performance gap matrix for the important elements not being addressed by your brand and determine the extent to which you need to take action to close any competitive gaps.

For those wanting more detailed explanation on how to create a brand scorecard – please see ( “value based marketing and pricing”.

Rational Vs Emotional Brand Linkages:
Traditional brand score cards tend to be designed from the standpoint of measuring rational brand value components (tangible product features/benefits). We all however, recognize that consumers/customers do not always make rational decisions. Therefore it is wise to capture the emotional dimension – especially when dealing with B2C products/services.

A consumer model takes a psychological approach to understanding the extent consumers are committed to their brands – among other dimensions.

The espoused approach is evolutionary to others in the marketplace. The key is that it strives to capture critical behavioral and attitudinal dynamics. The rational and emotional aspects and help focus effort priorities to the primary value drivers within targeted customer segments and during important periods/phases of the brand relationship.

Over time, the real knowledge comes from understanding the dynamics of the underlying value factor scores during key stages of the customer relationship. It opens the possibility of developing action thresholds to ensure that everyone in the organization knows when it is time to act or when it is time to raise one’s eyebrow and listen a little more intently to what your customers may be trying to tell you/warn you.

“Loyalty is the absence of something better.” Dave Williams, President Loblaw Companies -circa 1990

About the Author:
Miro Slodki is a marketing generalist with cross functional and cross sector experience spanning CPG Marketing, Direct Marketing, Franchise Retail/Travel, Market Research, Rewards, Sales, Relationship Management, B2C, B2B and online marketing. He has been pursuing his passion for strengthening brand value linkages for over 15 years. Any questions or comments are most welcome by contacting the author at

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