In today’s highly competitive marketplace, it is more important than ever for high quality brands to retain and build on the loyalty of their customers, as well as attracting new ones.
It may appear more than a little obvious that this is best achieved by offering designs that look great, perform well and offer some small but significant advantage over the opposition.
It can take many years for a company to build a solid and reliable customer base that will happily wax lyrical about the quality, innovation and philosophy of a brand. This loyalty can become almost like a mantra, such as ‘I always buy Mielle white goods – never let me down yet.’
This sort of behaviour is worth far more than a pack of sharply dressed young advertising hot shots, with a budget near the size of the recent US bank bailout fund. Alessi and BMW are great examples of this effect. Both pride themselves on producing designs that offer high performance, beautiful build quality and arresting looks. The customer has to pay a premium for the designs and they are happy to do so because both brands bring a strong identity that people aspire to own.
There is a flip side to this behaviour though. The loyal customers behave as though there has been an unwritten contract agreed, along the lines of ‘you continue to produce the great designs and I will continue to buy them and promote them.’ If that delicate balancing act between profit and quality is tipped too far in favour of the company accountants and an unfamiliar smile begins to appear on their faces, then beware – the big bad wolf of customer discontent may soon come knocking at the door.
When Daimler Benz decided to maintain their profit levels whilst reducing costs, the end-result was not surprisingly a dramatic drop in quality. Loyal customers who had bought Mercedes cars for years suddenly found that their latest purchase was no more reliable than a donkey with a bad case of wind and swiftly walked (usually because their car had broken down) over to the opposition.
Potential new customers did not want to buy into a brand on the way down and swiftly followed into the competitors showrooms. The whole episode had a seriously damaging effect on Mercedes that has taken years and a lot of money to achieve recovery.
It is imperative that high quality brands continue to produce high quality designs in order to maintain a comfortable and lasting position in the marketplace. Attempts at short-term financial gain can have disastrous long-term consequences and history is littered with the casualties of such shortsighted thinking.
Thankfully, many high quality brands such as Alessi, BMW, Louis Poulsen, Design E and Iittala see the sense in honouring the unwritten agreement to provide quality products at premium prices and have established loyal customer bases.