This study just uncovered the secret to brand loyalty

Any company or brand wants every customer to be a repeat customer, but that’s easier said than accomplished. Now, new research indicates the best way to build brand loyalty is to provide consumers with a unique, memorable experience.

We’ve all had certain experiences in life that we continually look back on and smile about years and decades after the fact. Whether that’s a wedding day, graduation ceremony, the birth of a child, or perhaps just an incredible concert or an afternoon spent at the beach.

Such memories and moments provide meaning and context to one’s life and often help us get through those much more common slow-moving Mondays and mundane afternoons.

A study from Washington State University investigated how such memorable experiences impact people by studying a group of over 800 individuals who had attended the 2018 Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.

Oktoberfest holds the enviable title of the world’s largest “beer festival and funfair” and usually sees over six million attendees from all over the planet. So, it’s fairly safe to say that most Oktoberfest celebrators make some lifelong memories along the way.

Heading into the study, researchers hypothesized that visiting a memorable event like Oktoberfest would increase life-satisfaction among attendees. Generally, their theory was proven true, but with some interesting added details along the way. The more connected tourists felt to the culture of Oktoberfest and/or the more unique they felt their experience was, the more life satisfaction they reported. Feeling a personal connection to the Oktoberfest event was even linked to more favorable beer and food impressions. 

How does one feel connected to a beer fest? It all comes down to personal experiences. For these participants, maybe it was falling in love with a specific type of beer at a particular beer tent or the realization that they look really good in lederhosen.

“If you can do something that transforms people even a little bit, it can have a huge impact on the success of your company and your brand,” says lead study author Robert Harrington, professor, and director of the School of Hospitality Management at Washington State University Carson College of Business. “The more customers are delighted, the more likely they are to be return customers. They are also more likely to give positive recommendations to friends and relatives, and particularly on social media. In today’s environment, people trust those reviews more than paid advertising.”

In terms of what lessons this can teach any brand or company looking to build a more loyal customer base, study authors say it’s all about cultivating a personal experience that is unique. Anyone can go to the store and pick up some beer, but if a particular type of beer is associated with a unique memory, that person will be much more likely to keep buying that brand.

Obviously, not every company or business is capable of re-creating literally one of the biggest parties of the year.

“Oktoberfest has a very strong brand. It’s almost like a bucket-list event,” Harrington adds. “As a significant event in visitors’ lives, there’s a greater likelihood that there’s a quantifiable measure of life satisfaction or sense of well-being from those experiences, as opposed to people going out to a neighborhood bar or restaurant.”

Still, businesses may want to explore holding physical or virtual events in conjunction with other local companies. During normal times, a bar and restaurant could team up for a joint event featuring collaborative food and drink. 

That may not be the best idea at this moment due to the pandemic, but similar delivery promotions could be set up as well. Perhaps even something along the lines of “order from this restaurant, and get a free ticket to a virtual art show.” Unique promotions like these make customers feel like they’re getting something they wouldn’t anywhere else, consequently they’ll be much more likely to come back again.

“Once people go back home, they will want to bring up that memory again,” Harrington concludes. “They will go buy that beer because they went to a festival where they had a great time.”

The full study can be found here, published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management.