Insights / branding

Aficionados Favor Their Own Flavor of Brand Loyalty

Customer loyalty comes in a variety of flavors.

For instance, there’s legacy loyalty: the brands you grew up with, the ones your family has trusted, are brands you’re likely to remain connected to as an adult and pass on as a household name for the next generation.

There’s habitual loyalty, like always stopping in at the same coffee place before work simply because it’s on your way and has a drive-through window. If a new business opened up with slightly better prices, better coffee, or a shorter wait at the window, you could be tempted away from your mainstay.

And at the far end of the spectrum, there are the brands that court a strong following of niche customers who are not only loyal, but consistently and personally engaged, even advocating for their favorite products out of their own enthusiastic interest.

They’re not just fans – they’re aficionados. And the brands that learn to identify and target this ultra-passionate flavor of followers can set themselves up for longtime loyalty.

Where do you find aficionados?

In general, brands and products that are well-aligned with a particular lifestyle or special interest hobby are the ones that attract aficionados.

  • Sneakers & “sneakerheads” – Who knew gym shoes would ever be a collectors’ item? Dominated by teen and young adult males, this fashion-forward aficionado might sell his soul for some new soles. This isn’t just about wearing the same brands as their heroes, a la Air Jordans. The shoes are sought, bought, and swapped on the basis of their designs and styles, and their perceived value on the street.
  • Energy drinks & extreme athletes – Beverages like Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar pack an extreme punch, and so do their followers. While you’re still likely to find Gatorade on the gridiron, these brands have successfully targeted fans and practitioners of extraordinary sports like snowboarding, rock climbing, parkour, and base jumping. They appeal to males and females alike by sponsoring athletes and events, where their logos are ubiquitous – and not just on the banners they paid for.
  • Organic supermarkets & clean eaters – For the health-conscious consumer, every purchase is a vote for or against the causes they care about, whether it’s fair trade, animal rights, food allergies, or homeopathy. Shopping exclusively at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s isn’t just about filling the fridge, it’s about feeling good in the choices they’re making. And most of them aren’t hesitant to tell you all about it.

aficionados could fill stadiumsAficionadoism, for lack of a better word, is not unlike the avid fandom that follows musicians, sports teams, and TV shows and movies. Nowadays, it’s fairly socially acceptable to “geek out” about almost anything. The word niche might connote something small, but aficionados could fill stadiums – and sometimes they do, at conventions that cater to their interests. (Think: ComicCon in San Diego.)

There’s also a sense of community among these hyper-loyal customers that creates an inside and outside distinction. The brands mean something completely different to the aficionado than they do to the everyman, to whom sneakers are just shoes, not a status symbol.

These brands don’t just appeal to a particular lifestyle, they’re practically synonymous with it, even to those outside the culture.

Opportunities to court aficionados

Of course, not every brand will find itself with a cult following like this. Some products just don’t inspire the same kind of passionate enthusiasm that fashion and food tend to. And much like the odds of any marketing effort going “viral” or not, aficionados are difficult to predict or design for.

But it still pays to identify, target, and reward your most loyal customer base.

Locally, Mason spotted this opportunity for Lyman Orchards, a centrally-located Connecticut farm that dates back centuries and still continues to draw fans to its grounds. The Lyman experience is memorable for all ages – picking your own fruit, getting lost in a corn maze, taking a baking workshop, or brushing up on your golf skills.

So all of the online, traditional, PR, social, and email components of this strategy are designed with that experience in mind, giving customers a reason to visit Lyman Orchards year-round. For example, TV appearances like the one below will whet a customer’s appetite even when apples aren’t in season.

This goes to show that even if a business’s appeal is limited to locals, or particular professions, or age ranges, or whatever other niche you can think of, the lasting loyalty of that niche cannot be underestimated.

How does Mason inspire customer engagement and loyalty for brands big and small, local and nationwide? We’d be happy to have that conversation with you. Get in touch via our website, on Twitter @mason_inc, or with a good old-fashioned phone call to 203.393.1101.