The Conundrum With Brand Loyalty

Apr 10th

Elysian_Brewing_Capitol_Hill_01

Recently Elysian Brewery, a Seattle favorite craft beer company, announced it’s sale to Anheuser-Busch. The backlash was swift. Seattleites may be know for their passive-aggressive, sometimes aloof attitude. But we are also fiercely loyal to the plethora of local, small-mid size companies that dot the landscape of the Seattle scene.

So as I’m listening to the story on the Radio I find myself scoffing when one of the brewery’s original founders attempted to assure locals that the beer and brand would remain the same. That’s not the point!!!!  – I’m now yelling at my radio. The poor kids stopped next to me at the traffic light must surely think I’m crazy. I continue undaunted – No, you idiot, it’s not the same! It can’t be the same! It will never be the same!

What is the point? The point is Elysian Brewery simply will never be the same (I know, I said that already). The beer may taste the same, the brand may look the same, even the locations and workers may stay the same. But it’s still not the same! What the founder (one of three) from Elysian Brewery failed to recognize is that many folks actually seek out companies not only for the quality or uniqueness of their product but also as a way to send a message. I’m not  going to buy from mega-corps. I want to support local companies. I want to vote with my dollars. Us Seattleites won’t flat out say it, but there’s even a little snobbishness involved – we feel somehow just and special that we choose to support small businesses over mega-corps. It boosts our own egos as much as it boost the coffers of the companies we support.

So why do good businesses sell out? Well, as any marketing 101 class will tell you, repeat customers are worth 10x as much as new customers. Establishing brand loyalty is tantamount to success. So in exchange for often much needed capital, mega corporations capitalize on the brand loyalty the purchased company has established. The problem is that not only does this kill the small companies credo as an indie-provider, eventually, no matter how good intentioned, the influence of the mother-ship mega-corp will leak in too.
Take Burt’s Bees. Sold to Clorox in 2007 many devoted users of the beloved brand were shocked. I mean, Burt’s Bees represented one of the most successful grass roots natural product companies to ever have walked the earth! Many loyal customers couldn’t find it in their hearts to break up with the brand. And in fact, even in my household we continued to use them until the reformulations started popping up last year. Similar tales can be found with Tom’s of Main (now owned by Colgate), Korres (now owned by Johnson & Johnson) and Cascade Farms Organic Cereal (now owned by General Mills).

All these companies were once small, trusted businesses that were successful in establishing a loyal following. Ultimately, their success, you could say, was their demise. For those of us who wish to spend our dollars with small and local businesses, all these mergers and acquisitions can make things tricky. The good news is that there is almost always a new, up & coming company who sells a similar product. You just need to keep on your toes to find them.

Photo Credit: Joe Mabel, 2012. Title: Elysian Brewing Company. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license