4 ways companies can build brand loyalty: Old Navy CMO

Ivan Wicksteed dispenses marketing advice at The Gathering conference in Banff

Old Navy CMO Ivan Wicksteed.

If Ivan Wicksteed has learned one thing in his career marketing some of the world’s biggest brands such as Converse, Coca-Cola, Volkswagen and now Old Navy, it’s that just about any company can build a loyal following, no matter the industry.

But instead of relying on the discipline of marketing to make it happen, Wicksteed believes companies need to tap into the emotions of their potential clients or customers.

“It’s the emotional connections that a brand makes; the emotional memories, the emotional triggers that you spark that last the longest and go the deepest. It’s not the rational ones,” Wicksteed, Old Navy’s SVP and global chief marketing officer, told a packed audience at The Gathering conference in Banff on Wednesday.

In a presentation that was part-marketing advice (see tips below), and part science (he described the part of the brain that processes emotions, called the amygdala), Wicksteed described how brands are a lot like people: We usually remember those who engage us emotionally and forget those who simply pass along information.

Wicksteed said brands that make emotional connections generate the greatest consumer loyalty.

He outlined four ways companies can help build brand loyalty:

Uniqueness: It’s increasingly difficult for a brand to have a unique selling point. However, Wicksteed said brands can create uniqueness through certain tactics such as limiting supply, creating special collections, or offering a product or service for a limited time. “When we create uniqueness out of something that doesn’t exist, it draws a line … It creates covet-ability.”

Familiarity: “We are drawn, emotionally, to things that are familiar to us,” Wicksteed said. However, he noted this is more difficult for new brands. He said having an archetypal story is way to tackle that problem. Wicksteed pointed to brands such as Vice as it builds out its news and entertainment group. “They are always Vice: They are always doing it with that troublemaker, rebel without a cause point of view,” said Wicksteed. “Knowing your archetypal story is how you achieve familiarity, even if you’re a new brand.”

Personalization: “This is the big buzz word in marketing,” said Wicksteed. “How do you make it so that every time someone comes back to you, you know a little bit more about them so that the experience becomes more personal? So they say ‘They get me.’”

Design: It’s not just colours and graphics, but functionality, said Wicksteed. “Design isn’t just about making something aesthetically beautiful, it’s about knowing what problem you’re trying to solve.”

Old Navy is still working on adopting tenets of “emotional branding,” said Wicksteed, who joined the company two years ago from Nike. It’s also shifting its strategy.

“Old Navy for quite awhile used to be in the clothing-by-the-pound business. We’re trying to get back into the fashion-essentials business,” said Wicksteed in an interview with Marketing magazine after his presentation. “It means bridging the gap between fashion and discounters. That’s the unique space for Old Navy, being in the fashion business.”

Old Navy is also actively working on helping to determine what’s next for retail, particularly the rapid rise in e-commerce.

Wicksteed said he has brought together a team of logistical experts, programmers, designers and merchandizers to try to figure out the mix between digital, which today accounts for about 20% of sales, and bricks and mortar locations.

“Retail hasn’t changed for 50 years … how people buy products has changed,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out how to build it.”

Wicksteed’s 3 Cardinal Rules For Brands:

  • Don’t talk about yourself. (You’re not that interesting)
  • Have a point of view on something happening in the world (Not about yourself, that’s easy)
  • Open the conversation. (Have a dialogue)


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