A new study published electronically by the Journal of Consumer Research investigates what happens when consumers switch loyalties and "dump" the brands they previously had a relationship with.
In an effort to gain a larger market share many companies are attempting to connect with consumers on a more personal level, build a customer/brand relationship and bond their product with the consumer's sense of self image. However, a new study published November 10 has found that much like a real relationship, the effects of a customer feeling betrayed by their brand "partner" can lead to a messy and public breakup.
The study found that consumers were likely to walk away from a once loved brand after what the researchers deemed a "critical incident" - a critical incident is something that changes the consumer relationship from love to hate and leads the consumer to react angrily by publicly criticizing their former favorite brand. According to the researchers critical incidents can range from consumers repeatedly receiving bad customer service which was equated to a partner's "ongoing financial or substance abuse problems" or one incident of rudeness or horrendous service which the researchers equated to an "adulterous one night stand."
Following a "critical incident" the fallout of a bitter brand breakup, much like a real separation, can be harmful to the other partner; with the aggrieved consumer likely to engage in "anti-brand" behavior, by taking vengeful actions such as publicly criticizing the product, encouraging their friends not to buy the brand or even filing claims against the company.
Therefore the study concludes that brands that seek loyalty by engaging the customer on a personal level through sites such as Facebook for example should work hard to please the customer not just at the start but throughout the length of the relationship as well as promoting the need for occasional forgiveness towards the brand.
The full study entitled: " A coal in the heart: Self-relevance as a post-exit predicator of consumer anti brand actions" by Allison R. Johnson, Maggie Matear and Matthew Thompson is available in full here