Marketers understand that the most valuable customers are not just those who buy, but those who buy often, buy and tell a friend, buy and remember.

Generating new interest in a product or service is a battle, but retaining customer relationships and growing them is a whole other ball game. And it's not a game for companies hoping to remain afloat with single-purchase buyers; it's for those looking to turn first-time customers into buyers who aren't fleeting or insubstantial: brand loyalists.

Defining "brand loyalists" can be difficult, because the rate of purchase varies so much from industry to industry and product to product. But regardless of the definition of the elusive "brand loyalist," marketers know that reaching some level of brand loyalty with customers is important.

Defining levels of loyalty can help push customers deeper into their relationship with a brand.

Developed by David A. Aaker, the brand loyalty pyramid includes five levels. It begins with prospects "entering" at the base of the pyramid and then progressing upward as they become more dedicated to a product, service, or overarching brand.

The pyramid categories, from least loyal at the base of the pyramid, to most loyal at its apex:

  1. Switchers
  2. Satisfied or habitual buyers
  3. Satisfied buyers with switching costs
  4. Brand likers
  5. Committed buyers

We can also think of those levels as stages in a traditional funnel, but in reverse order, of course: Switchers enter at the top of the funnel, and emerge from the bottom as committed buyers.

1. Switchers

Switchers have made a purchase but have no level of brand loyalty or even affinity for a brand.

To best push switchers down the funnel, marketers should do their best to reconnect with them soon after their purchase, or at a strategic time—say, once they visit a product page on your website and spend time a certain amount of time there—to continue the conversation.

Although switchers don't typically care what brand they buy from, if they have a positive first encounter with your brand they could be pushed into the next buyer category.

2. Satisfied or Habitual Buyers

People who are satisfied or habitual buyers are happy with the brands they purchase from, but they mainly stick with a product or service because it's easy.

Nurturing these people is important, even if you anticipate they may buy again, because what they deem to be "easy" may change as competitors come knocking on their door with deals or other options.

Offer people in this category relevant discounts or deals when applicable, and keep communication going between purchases.

Satisfied Buyers With Switching Costs

Satisfied buyers who are satisfied because of the convenience factor—not the brand factor—are at risk of jumping to a competitor if anything about their shopping and purchasing process begins to deter them. They stick with a brand because there are barriers that make changing their preferred brand less attractive. Barriers may include the time required for the change, fees, or the feeling that a change requires making quality concessions.

Because they're not necessarily passionate about the brand they buy, it's a good opportunity to build brand awareness with these people.

That doesn't necessarily have to be in the form of promotions, but it's a good time to share more about the people behind the company and what else your brand is doing.

Brand Likers

Finally, at this stage, a brand earns some loyalty from its customer!

Brand likers may not be as dedicated as committed buyers, but they do feel affinity for a brand. It could be an emotional connection as much as a preference for a particular product or service. Brand likers may not even know why they like a brand so much.

So, marketers can take the opportunity to build a deeper relationship. That includes more communication touchpoints—perhaps email and text—that include not only product information but also company information.

Committed Buyers

Once customers enter the committed buyer category, they are incredibly knowledgeable about your brand. It's likely the identity of the brand or company closely aligns with the buyer's personal values.

Ensure the relationship remains two-way; one of the best things to do is to award loyalty perks or discounts to these buyers.

Keys to Pushing Customers Down the Brand Loyalty Funnel

Multiple strategies can push customers down the brand loyalty funnel, and no two companies will present the exact same path. But there are two universals to transitioning customers from switchers all the way to committed buyers: impeccable customer service and loyalty perks.

When someone reaches out to a brand to report a positive or a negative experience, it is vital that that person receive an authentic, fast response. Assisting someone when they're upset or disappointed can build their trust in your brand. Offering anything other than help can send customers running to a competitor for their next purchase.

A rewards system may not seem like a good fit for all products and services, but it can be. A reward can take the form of early access or free promotional experiences. Rewarding your customers as they climb up the brand loyalty pyramid (or make their way down the funnel) is a way to deepen relationships and make them more likely to last.

The customer journey is different for every brand, but what works well often isn't. Investing in exemplary customer service and a loyalty system that rewards those who stay loyal can result in brand switchers' becoming brand loyalists for years to come.

More Resources on Brand Loyalty

Brand Loyalty Programs: Satisfaction and Engagement Trends

Is Brand Loyalty Dead? [Infographic]

Five Real Content Strategies to Earn Brand Attachment

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image of Thomas Wachtel

Thomas Wachtel is a content marketing strategist at Element Three, a marketing consultancy in Indianapolis.

LinkedIn: Thomas Wachtel