family at thanksgiving dinner table

A Key for Brand Loyalty: Become a Holiday Tradition

WE Communications Blog: Brands in Motion

— Joshua Eubanks, Sr Account Planner 

I became a Chicago Bears fan on a snowy Thanksgiving day in 1980. I was three, and my family had gathered at my grandparents’ house in Wheaton, Illinois, to share a holiday feast and watch the Bears-Lions game. At some point during the game, enchanted by the Detroit Lions’ fierce logo and silver uniforms, I started to cheer for Detroit. Grandfather wasn’t having it. “Get out of my house!” he yelled. “I won’t have a Lions fan eating at my table!”

This sent me running out the front door in tears. Grandma came outside to comfort me and make amends, and then she said, “Go give Big Pop a hug and tell him you’ll always be a Bears fan.” I did, and I’m a Bears fan to this day.

There’s something about the holidays that inspires a special kind of brand loyalty. NFL games and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thanksgiving. Stouffer’s Stove Top Stuffing and French’s fried onions. Starbucks holiday cups. The close associations every family has with certain brands of candies, snacks or food. One question in our Brands in Motion global study looked at knee-jerk emotional attachment to brands. The question is, “If a brand were to one day disappear, how would you feel?” Respondents were given a sliding scale of -100 to 100, with “Good riddance” on the negative side and “I need it back” on the positive side.

Loyalty may be on the decline — some might say it’s dead — but I believe it’s alive and well for the brands who understand motion. One surefire way to embed your brand in consumers’ hearts: being a holiday tradition.


Ever-evolving dependability

Consider the 27.9 million average viewers who have watched each Thanksgiving Day NFL game (as compared to the 16.5 million average for all games). Or the 3.5 million people who line the streets of Manhattan to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Every year, these events are more or less the same, and every year they’re a huge win for these brands.

Dependability is a vital element of tradition. Of course, even holiday traditions evolve. In a world of motion, consumers have exponential expectations, and brands need to constantly raise the bar to meet them. That’s why the NFL introduced a third and often more compelling game (originally exclusive to the NFL Network) back in 2006. It’s also why the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade constantly evolves to reflect American pop culture, and why it features a ton of A-list appearances and musical guests.

Now ask yourself: If the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade went away, or if the NFL decided to stop showing football on Thanksgiving — or in the parlance of Brands in Motion, if it “disappeared” — would consumers “want it back?” You bet they would.


Meeting consumer expectations with holiday tech

In the ’50s and ’60s, a man named Tony Volk dedicated his life to helping Americans roast a better turkey, and he invented the pop-up turkey timer. Today, these timers are embedded in tens of millions of turkeys every holiday season.

Tech-enhanced holiday traditions — or the disruption of them, à la Cyber Monday — are now common. Consumers expect them. Brands in Motion found that 95 percent of consumers expect brands to use tech to deliver products and services they haven’t dreamed of yet. But consumers move on fast. As Jeff Bezos said in a recent letter to shareholders, “One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static — they go up. It’s human nature. We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary.’”

Think about how brands rose to meet consumers’ expectations the next time you’re scoping out Thanksgiving’s games on the NFL app or peeking in the oven door to see if the timer has popped.


How to become a staple

When you think of Thanksgiving at the grocery store, what comes to mind? My mind goes immediately to Kraft or Stouffer’s stuffing, a Butterball turkey, Ocean Spray cranberry sauce, Del Monte or S&W corn, Libby’s canned pumpkin, McCormick’s gravy, and French’s fried onions. These brands have been part of many families’ Thanksgivings for decades.

Brands in Motion would probably label these brands as Providers — brands that score high on rational drivers with but relatively low on emotional ones. These brands don’t need to focus on messaging that drives an emotional connection, however — holiday traditions do it for them. Brands in Motion shows that functionality is foundational. Consumers expect their products to work, and work seamlessly. That’s what these brands provide, mostly through convenience, but also through performance. Opening up a can of cranberry sauce is a lot less labor-intensive than making it from scratch; and really, green bean casserole without the crunch? Thank you, French’s.


Lions, turkeys and bears, oh my!

I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for long enough to remember when the Seattle SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and the fan outcry it caused. To this day, Seattleites mourn the loss of the Sonics, screaming “I want it back!” Sports, like holidays, drive incredible emotional connections between consumers and brands. I know that if the Bears disappeared, I’d be on the first flight to Chicago to join the protest.

This Thanksgiving, the Bears will face off against the Lions again. I’ll be watching the game with my sister and her family in Portland, Oregon, and I’ll be rooting for Chicago, wearing my brand loyalty loud and proud and enjoying my Stouffer's stuffing and Butterball turkey. You can count on it — it’s a tradition!

#Beardown and Happy Thanksgiving.