Blog Insight

Navigating the Marketing Landscape: From Loyalists to Fans

First and foremost, framing the discussion as Loyalists versus Fans oversimplifies the journey. Rather than a dichotomy, it should be viewed as a progression from Loyalists to Fans. Drawing from my 15 years in loyalty marketing, it's clear that loyalty isn't the final destination of the customer journey; it's a crucial pit stop on the route to the ultimate goal: creating brand fans. 

Brand fans are those who go the extra mile, such as donning Harry Potter attire for a book or movie release, purchasing wall posters of their favorite sports icons, or patiently waiting hours, if not days, for a "must-see" concert. However, what defines brand fandom, in my view, is the alignment, acceptance, and projection of shared values with the brand, a concept Marcus Collins terms "self-congruence." In his recent book, "For the Culture," Collins defines self-congruence as the alignment of an individual's self-concept with the brands and products they choose. 

The process of fandom, the expression of brand love, taps into cultural and psychological levers that drive the human desire to connect, assimilate, and participate with brands. Fandom becomes a celebration where brand fans see the brand as a reflection of themselves, a defining element of their identity. 

A continuous investment 

Reflecting on my journey in loyalty marketing, I've collaborated with remarkable brands to develop sustained customer engagement strategies through loyalty as a business strategy. While focusing on driving transactional loyalty and the recurring revenue from engaged or existing customers is pivotal, it necessitates continuous investment and a scaled-enhanced, personalized customer experience at all touch points.  

Most loyalty programs are really focused on promoting transactional loyalty, especially in the early stages, to develop trials, enhance the understanding of value, and reinforce the logic of an ongoing relationship that delivers continuous value. Brands can't afford to cut corners on investment when transitioning the customer from perceiving value to making the brand a habit. Marketing leadership must embrace both digital and traditional channels that continue to drive easy brand engagement and realization of immediate value.  


While the goal of realizing a customer's lifetime value is significant, it shouldn't be the endpoint. Business success is ultimately about ROI, and marketers miss a substantial opportunity if they don't move beyond loyalty to cultivating brand fans. 

Now, let's delve into the distinctions between transactional loyalty and brand loyalty: 

Transactional loyalty: 

  • Definition: Transactional loyalty refers to a customer's tendency to make repeat purchases based on specific transactions or interactions with a business. 
  • Focus: It is driven by short-term incentives, discounts, promotions, or rewards associated with individual transactions. 
  • Nature: Customers exhibiting transactional loyalty may switch between brands based on who offers the best deal or benefit at a particular moment. 
  • Example: A customer who consistently buys from a store because of frequent discounts or special promotions. 

Brand loyalty: 

  • Definition: Brand loyalty is a deeper, emotional connection that customers develop with a particular brand over time. 
  • Focus: It is not solely dependent on transactional benefits but is built on trust, positive experiences, and the overall brand image. 
  • Nature: Brand loyal customers are more likely to stick with a brand even when there are better deals elsewhere, as they value the brand's identity and values. 
  • Example: A customer who consistently chooses a specific brand of sneakers because they align with the brand's values and have had positive experiences with the products. 

Empowering fans 

Building brand fans requires a re-engineering of the marketing toolkit. Tools that deliver authentic and scalable personalization that supports and sustains engagement, so an integrated direct and digital marketing campaign is a must. Trusting the customer, breaking the reliance on incentives that support just transactional loyalty, and instilling confidence in the brand and its best customers become paramount. It involves empowering fans with brand loyalty tools that generate momentum, urgency, and a sense of community. 

While comprehensive examples of brands successfully navigating this path are limited, the opportunity lies in recognizing that success in brand fandom often stems from the efforts of fans, not just the brand. It's a natural state waiting to be embraced and fueled by both brands and fans alike. 


Guest author Matt Garrett is a loyalty marketing expert and a strategic marketing consultant for DCG ONE.