Editor’s note: Ruthie Feinstein is vice president, insights and engagement at research firm SIVO Insights. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared under the title, “Emotional loyalty: Two brands that have earned mine.” 

Loyalty, as defined by our friends at Google, is “a strong feeling of support or allegiance,” but it’s so much more than that. Loyalty is a layered, nuanced, complex emotion. And as humans, there is nothing we covet more than a true feeling of loyalty. Consider how you feel when you experience genuine loyalty in your personal relationships: protected, valued, even cherished. But what causes that level of loyalty? It likely results from shared feelings of trust, reliability, appreciation and even empathy.

In the Humanizing Loyalty research SIVO conducted with ICF Next and Panoramix Global, we uncovered that the emotional drivers of genuine loyalty between brands and consumers are really no different than those we experience in our personal relationships. And for brands to succeed, they must realize they are in a relationship with their customers, where the goal is to be authentic and real – not perfect – just like personal relationships.

Our research showed that when people feel – and experience – core characteristics of loyalty like trust and appreciation, disloyalty actually feels wrong and is less likely to happen. Imagine your customers refusing to leave your brand because it would feel wrong. Pretty powerful. 

I have two of these brand relationships in my own life: Lexus and Spots Gone Carpet Cleaning & Restoration, a local company where I live in Minneapolis. Wait – what? Yes, two companies in completely different categories with different marketing budgets have very important behaviors in common.

Brand purpose 

First, both companies have a brand purpose rooted in serving me. They make me feel that they are in business for me, to remove the pain points in my life. 

At the base level, they both provide an outstanding product or service I can count on, but that’s just table stakes. More than that, their actions over time have proven that I can trust them to deliver on their promises – both big and small. They make me feel appreciated with every interaction, not just when I’m buying something. Do things always go right? No, but they’re transparent if they make a mistake and take accountability, and that goes a long way with me. Our relationship isn’t perfect but it’s real and honest.

Second, both companies work hard to demonstrate empathy and appreciation, which feels rare in today’s world. Our research found that 79 percent of consumers want to feel appreciated but only 64 percent say they get this from the brands they use most. So, how do my beloved brands pull this off? 

A guest in their home

When I first purchased a Lexus car I was treated with a great deal of respect and honesty. As I looked around, I saw everyone was being treated this way. It continued years later when I needed to trade in my car earlier than expected for one that better suited my changing lifestyle and they created a plan that worked for both of us. Then there was a recent experience when I had an unexpected flat tire and they worked hard to squeeze me in because I desperately needed my car for a work trip the next day. It’s also the countless times I bring my car in for routine service. They always welcome me with a big smile and honestly manage my expectations about how long it will take so I can plan my day accordingly. 

On my last visit to the dealership I noticed The Lexus Covenant. It states that they’ll treat each customer like a “guest in our home.” I feel this loud and clear. (It doesn’t hurt that their waiting area is nicer than my own living room.) Four Lexus cars into the relationship, it’s the sum of all of these interactions throughout the years that has sealed the deal for me. And with each interaction they always thank me for choosing to do business with them. Yes, it is a choice – and they honor that. 

The Lexus Covenant that caught my eye on my last visit.

The Lexus Covenant

A dear friend rather than a customer

Spots Gone has earned my loyalty thanks to the kind problem-solvers who answered the phone when I called in a panic about my stained carpet. Loyalty was fostered when the owner of the company showed up to make sure the job was done correctly, and when he followed up a week later to see if I was satisfied. Not to mention the consideration they showed me when they let me know they were running 10 minutes late, hoping it didn’t “mess up my day.” 

It’s also their transparent pricing; thorough explanations of the products they use and exactly what will be done; and the pro tips they give me so I don’t have to call them the next time my puppy has an accident (use white vinegar!). 

Google review for Spots GoneLoyalty is about a mind-set, not money

As long as it is financially viable, I will always buy a Lexus. And I will never call another carpet-cleaning company as long as I live in the Twin Cities. How can an international luxury car company and a local, independently owned carpet cleaner generate the same level of loyalty? 

It’s about a mind-set. You don’t need deep pockets to be consumer-centric or to act with trust, reliability or empathy. 

That’s where we as human insights professionals come in. Companies win your heart when they humanize their approach to earning your loyalty. 

Researchers guide brands to focus on their customers as the North Star, realizing the power of their relationship and delivering insights to strengthen that connection. It’s about truly understanding what people value, finding and solving their pain points and delivering a customer experience where disloyalty feels wrong. That’s where the magic happens – the magic of that layered, nuanced, complex emotion we call loyalty.