Jan 1, 2010

Brand Loyalty

Today folks, I want to talk with you about "Brand Loyalty", all business in some shape or another seek to build this with their customers.  No matter what you are selling, you need repeat business and one of the ways you accomplish this is through client loyalty.  The epitome of that is Advocacy of your brand/company to other potential customers.  If you can not only secure your clients, but also turn them into "salespeople" for your product you have established something very precious indeed.  As the recipient of this, all you have to do is continue doing the things you did to receive the honor and where applicable continue to improve and produce a quality product.

What happens though, if you fail to perform and lose the customer?  Anyone will tell you, it is a bitter pill to swallow to lose such a good customer and often an impossible task to regain a trust once lost.  I would like to illustrate with a personal story.

In 1970, my Mom bought a Maytag Washing Machine and Dryer.  The lonely Maytag repairman commercials were true.  These machines were fantastic.  In 1986, Mom had the washing machine belt replaced and had a new dial put on the machine because the writing had rubbed off from 16 years of constant use.  When I graduated from college in 1990, one of my first purchases was a washer and dryer, did I even consider another brand?  Absolutely not, Mom's old faithful Maytag set was still running after more than 20 years.  I got a great deal at Circuit City on a pair of floor models, they were a little dented and there were a few scratches on them, but I saved a couple hundred dollars.  These machines lived up to their legacy and served me and my husband for 10 solid years.

We bought a new home in 2000 and decided that we'd like to have new appliances to go with our new home, there wasn't a thing wrong with the old faithful pair, but they had been kind of beat up when I bought them and several major moves later they didn't look so great.  Of course, we bought a new Maytag set, I would not have even considered another brand.  Standing in Sears, my husband and I debated the traditional model or the new high tech, front loader.  The difference in price was significant, but hey, how many times in your life do you buy a washer and dryer, right?  My mother had finally gotten a new set the year before and her Maytags had lasted almost 30 years.  Our current set was still working great after 10, so we decided to spend the $3500 for the Maytag Neptune set.  Believe me folks, we had just bought a house that we could hardly afford, this was a big deal.

What neither my husband or I knew at the time was that Maytag was producing a terrible product.  The once proud brand had dumped these Maytag Neptune machines on their loyal customers and they were lemons.  The Maytag Washer lasted 3 years.  I found out at the time I had missed the deadline for filing in a class action lawsuit by 18 days.  This lawsuit ultimately brought Maytag to its knees and the company was sold to Whirlpool.  This was a major financial hit for us, you see now we had a baby in full time day care and a house we really still could not afford - so buying ANOTHER washer after only three years was a bitter pill to swallow.

We sucked it up and bought another washer, but do you think for one millisecond we considered Maytag?  No way.  So there we were, with a mismatched set, half the reason we had bought the Neptunes was because the old pair was beat up looking.  Now that might not seem like a big deal to some folks, but it was to my husband, he is particular that way.

A couple of years later the Maytag Neptune dryer started going on the fritz.  We tried to buy a dryer to match our two year old washer, and that drama is for another post.  Suffice it to say that for two years, my husband coaxed that dying dryer to work.  It was actually quite comical to hear him talk to it and cajole it to work.  Apparently the dryer took on female characteristics because he would tell "her" that she was looking particularly lovely that day and that her buttons were so sleek and sexy.  Laugh if you want, but usually, she would work for him after a bit of encouragement.

Anyway, last month, after several trips to the laundromat to finish the clothes, we decided to bite the bullet and buy ANOTHER set.  Now, in perspective we are only nine years past our original purchase and we had spent around $5000 in laundry equipment and service calls during that time.  We headed to our local appliance store. (Plaza Appliance, who by the way if you are in Charlotte is the ONLY place I will buy appliances from, the salepeople were very knowledgeable and professional and actually knew what they were selling as opposed to other big retailers.  Ha!  Look, I am an advocate).  They of course were subjected to my sour grapes and tales of woe regarding my laundry drama over the last several years.  I was indeed still very bitter and feeling it even more keenly since I was about to spend another $3000.  They listened patiently and began to tell me a story.

Apparently, Whirlpool has done a fantastic job with the Maytag brand.  They have returned to the quality construction of old and are repositioning Maytag as the premier brand in reliability.  They even launched their Centennial Washer which is the same design and make up as the one my Mom had for 30 years and I had for 10, with several great improvements.  Nostalgia was calling my name, I mean these fancy high tech machines were costing me a fortune, and I know this old faithful will carry us to retirement... So folks, what do you think?  What would you have done in my shoes?

In the end, we stuck with the front loader HE style and bought another brand.  Trusty Consumer Reports rates it number one in reliability, I sure hope so.  Even though I didn't buy the Maytag brand again, I felt an odd relief that they were doing better and I truly do hope they are successful, I just wasn't ready to make that leap of faith again.  Perhaps I am like a woman that sees her rotten ex-husband has begun acting like the man she fell in love with and finally forgives him, and while she hopes he does well, she's not willing at this point to jump back in the fire with him.

I told that big ole story to draw one more analogy and that is that the Republican Party is right now in the same position Maytag was in when it got sold to Whirlpool.  Your brand name is trashed by a shoddy product, you have lost your loyal customer, and you most certainly have lost your advocates.  You are at a cross roads right now, your clients are currently looking at you with a hopeful but a skeptical eye.  We hear some of the things you are saying and seem pretty good, there is even talk about launching that old reliable Reagan brand that we all know and love.  The challenge for the GOP is going to be if they can complete the sale, because once its gone, brand loyalty is very hard to get back, just ask Maytag.