Picture: 123RF/vanatchanan
Picture: 123RF/vanatchanan

In an age of increasing brand parity and a society overwhelmed by choice and technology, brand loyalty is now on a worrying decline.

That’s the blunt assessment of a new study by research agency Ask Afrika in its Icon Brands survey — the largest annual benchmark survey of its kind.

Says MD Sarina de Beer: "Consumer behaviour cannot be understood in isolation and needs to be contextualised within the landscape of global and local realities and lifestyle trends. Loyalty levels are declining in all spheres of life and brand owners need to question whether it is realistic to continue expecting consumers to remain loyal to their brand when they are not loyal to anything else, including religion, politics, work or relationships."

While brands are fighting hard to widen their scope to gain market share, it seems that every brand is focusing on almost every consumer. This, says De Beer, leads to consumers feeling overwhelmed and as if they are targets. The line between enticement and addiction is blurred. "We have become addicted to efficiency-driven lifestyles — which transcends instant gratification. We expect everything to be frictionless: experiences should be meshed into our lifestyles and everything we consume — from food to technology and apps — to allow us to dedicate more time to our professional and social lives."

Technology has a huge impact on consumers and South Africans spend a significant portion of their time online. The upshot for brands is negative.

"In essence, this has resulted in jumping jack engagement, where we jump from one exciting or dramatic discourse to the next, from one fad to another. It creates a breeding ground for dysfunctional behaviour and extremist behaviour in an extremist society. There is an endless need for more, and a sense of craveability or stickiness that makes it hard to exit the happy kingdom of consumerism. This will be the year that consumers seek to find balance in a world that is rapidly tilting out of control."

Another trend brands need to watch out for, she says, is an obsession with self and the rise of individualism. "The general consumer sentiment is that everything and everyone wants more from me and I want more from them. I know more, I expect more and I judge more. I’m significantly more informed. I desire authenticity on my own terms. It is supposed to be all about me."

The flip side, though, is that consumers are still price sensitive.

Price, says De Beer, remains a driving factor in consumer choice and promotions, loyalty programmes and benefits from a variety of retailers come into play.

"Price awareness has become a key influencer in an environment in which they have a wealth of choice.

"Young people are no longer absolute luxury shoppers, they mix and match the high with the low to express their personal style."

Another trend this year, driven by younger generations, is an increased focus on sustainability — the loyal consumer market has a high percentage of engaged green consumers. "These consumers are willing to make changes in their personal lifestyles, but expect the same from the brands they use. They are breaking away from stereotypes into a more fluid sense of identity."