Nike or Adidas? Samsung or Apple? BMW or Mercedes? For most of us, the answer is clear. And that is no coincidence. Iconic brands like these have customers who regard them as superior to competitors and buy their products over and over. These brands have built brand loyalty.
Brand loyalty is a profitable long-term marketing strategy. It promises to deliver “two to five times the shareholder returns over the next 10 years” and to grow revenues 2.5 times faster. Brand loyalty is a predictor of customer retention, which is especially beneficial in saturated, hyper-competitive markets, like tech markets. Essentially, brand loyalty provides market power.
But building brand loyalty is not all about profits, it can also be a path towards more sustainable business practices. Brand-loyal customers are not as influenced by price as they are by other factors like service and quality. This customer base allows businesses to shift timing, resources, and product strategies towards more sustainable ones—without losing customers to competitors. It provides a space for business experimentation and innovation. And it can lead to strategies that counter planned obsolescence. Where planned obsolescence aims to trigger more purchases with short product lifetimes; brand loyalty relies on long term customer trust and high product quality–without compromising profit. So, it can be “an effective way for companies to secure their profits while shifting toward longer product lifetimes.”
The Road to Brand Loyalty: Repair
Making products repairable checks all the boxes for building brand loyalty. However, it is not something that happens overnight or when prioritizing quarterly profits. Instead, it develops over time through continuous effort. To build brand loyalty, companies need to meet the following goals:
- Consistently produce quality products that stand the test of time
- Provide quick, helpful customer support
- Be trustworthy, providing reliable and honest information
- Facilitate product customization and personalization
- Show corporate responsibility
- Have a good brand reputation
Repair is a strategy that works to address all these goals. Providing good service, accessible product repairs, and timely software updates ensures that electronic devices will stand the test of time. Stuff breaks. Even the best pieces of equipment fail. This is normal and expected. Normalizing and enabling repair promises that products will last long after the first break—and that the quality built into them is worth repairing.
Repairable Is Good Customer Support
Making products repairable, in particular by end-users, can result in better customer service. It reduces wait times when products break by allowing users to self-service their products at home—any time. It can put companies ahead of the competition. In fact, self-service is a growing trend in the customer experience landscape. Quick problem resolution and 24/7 support are two of the most important aspects of a great customer experience. So, good customer support can be a brand differentiator.
Yet, a relevant customer support should consider the whole repair process: from the moment a failure occurs up until it is solved. This includes product identification, fault diagnosis, part procurement, tool procurement, product disassembly, part replacement, product reassembly, and product testing. The consumer should be aware of this self-service before the product breaks. Diagnosis and repair instructions should be complete and easy-to-follow. And the repair itself should need little time and minimal skills for consumers to be interested in it.
Repair Deepens Ownership
On top of providing quick customer support, facilitating repairs also enhances product customization and personalization. Designing a product that can be disassembled and reassembled many times, without damage, allows users to swap parts and tailor the product to their taste and needs. Thus, repairs can increase the customer’s emotional attachment to the product and their satisfaction. This is one of the first steps towards building brand loyalty.
Repair Nurtures Corporate Trust
Zooming out from the individual level, manufacturer-developed repair ecosystems show corporate responsibility—conscience, honesty, and integrity in addressing social issues–and provide corporate trust.
Electronic devices are produced quickly, but are also quickly disposed of. In fact, e-waste, or WEEE (Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment) is one of the fastest growing, single waste streams at a global scale. Manufacturing them also exerts a negative impact on the environment. Their break-neck production rates translate into an inefficient use of raw materials and water. They produce high emissions and pollution at extraction and disposal sites, with adverse health effects. All of which raise ethical concerns.
But making products repairable and facilitating software updates can slow down these trends. Repairing a product delays the disposal of e-waste, which shows corporate responsibility—something that many consumers look for and connect with. It helps to build a good brand reputation. It shows that the manufacturer considers the product worth preserving. And the resources, effort, and people which create those products are valued.
Acknowledging and supporting product repairs shows trustworthiness in the brand. Product repairs are part of a normal product’s lifetime—and consumers know that. Clearly communicating what is or is not repairable, as Fairphone does, is an act of transparency that builds trust in the brand.
Brand reputation—a positive, public image of a company—can be a good predictor in brand loyalty. For consumers, perception is reality. And that perception is shaped with each encounter they have with the brand. From first discovery, social media interaction, use, to product failure, repairability and end-of-life, each of these interactions is an opportunity to create brand loyalty and show corporate responsibility. They are critical to creating an iconic brand—and capturing all the economic opportunity therein—as we move towards a sustainable future.
Update: This post was edited for clarity on 6/22/23