The Costly New Importance of Brand Loyalty

Making the switch to a new brand could be steep, particularly when you consider device compatibility.

From an early age, my parents taught me that brand loyalty was a good way to ensure you always purchased quality products. Find a good brand that delivers quality products that perform, and you can trust them to do so in the future.

But lately, I’m beginning to wonder if brand loyalty is more of a hindrance than a help. That idea really took hold when I heard about Apple’s recent admission that they’ve started throttling older iPhones. Their excuse is that they don’t want my phone to just die on me, but that seems like a brand being “too helpful” (or just one making an excuse to drive consumers to upgrade).

Is Apple punishing loyal customers?

According to the reports, throttling is only occurring on 4 and 5 series iPhones. Again, Apples’ explanation is that these older phones may quit unexpectedly, leaving users in a lurch. But it feels more like a brand trying to push me to purchase again.

So, Apple’s not punishing loyalty, so much as they’re punishing people on a budget who can’t afford the latest and greatest models. I’m not sticking with the 6 series because I don’t want a new phone; I’m sticking with my phone because my husband went back to school and we can’t exactly shell out money right now.

But it does concern me that my phone could be throttled soon. Admittedly, I’ve seen the performance on my phone drop over the past year. Is it throttling or just an old product performing less than stellar? Hard to say. But the admission has changed my perception of the brand, nonetheless.

Apple isn’t the only brand pushing you into new products

When I worked for a major small appliance company, an engineer gave me a fascinating explanation of how today’s products don’t last as long as products used to. The idea behind it made sense: If you make a product that lasts twenty years, you continually have to work to get new customers. By contrast, if you make a product that only last five years, you get returning customers much faster. At the time, he even said that five years was the sweet-spot threshold – just long enough to seem dependable, but short enough to be a better revenue generator.

So, it’s not all that surprising to hear about Apple’s tactic. Instead of using inferior parts to make the products perform well over a shorter time, they use the technology at their disposal to throttle their older phones. Brilliant, but not exactly the message you want to send to customers that have been loyal to your brand for years, or even decades.

And this change in position from desiring faster repeat purchasing over brand loyalty could be hurting brands long-term. A 2016 study found that only 29% of Millennials say they usually buy the same brand, compared to 35% of Gen Xers like myself. And over one in four Millennials (265) said they “buy whatever brand they feel like at the time.”

This brand fickleness is making it harder for Apple and other brands to predict consumer behavior. But that’s a problem they created. The problem for consumers is that brand fickleness now comes with an increasingly high cost… product compatibility.

How product compatibility forces the importance of brand loyalty

Let’s say this news from Apple was the last straw that convinced me that my i-loyalty should come to an end. Now I have a new problem – how do I affordably switch to a different brand? My phone isn’t the only Apple product we own. My laptop is apple, my tablet is apple, and we have a Mac mini hooked up to our TV. Having all my products be compatible is useful for syncing and sharing. Everything in my life right now is integrated to the Apple world.

Changing my smartphone suddenly creates a compatibility problem. My new phone wouldn’t be an Apple product. Ergo, the new phone would integrate more easily with other Microsoft or Google products. But that means buying a whole new series of electronics, instead of just replacing my phone.  And all the apps that I’ve come to love may or may not be included on the Android network. The only good news is that I left iTunes a long time ago in favor of Spotify. But otherwise, it would be like uprooting my whole digital life.

I’ve talked to other users who are in the same situation. “I’m no longer as happy with Apple as I was five years ago, but now I’m stuck.”

This compatibility issue is only going to get worse

I’d like to end this article on a high note, but the truth is, compatibility problems are only going to get worse. As everything becomes digital – from home assistants like Alexa and Google Home to all the appliances in your kitchen ­­– integration is key. You want all your products to work together. But that forces you into buying a single brand.

There’s also a new issue of brands forming strategic partnerships. Spotify, for instance, is the music steaming service for PlayStation. Good for me, since I use both brands. But if I was a paid Pandora user, I’d be stuck on music choices for my PS4. This is happening with car compatibility features, too. Your car may only integrate with certain smartphones.

As products become more integrated and brands form alliances, the rest may be that consumers like us are increasingly stuck. So, consider carefully which brand you want to hitch your wagon to. Even if you don’t believe in brand loyalty, you may not have a choice.