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Building Loyalty with the Disaffected

Marketing Principles for Loyalty

Recently, I heard Aaron Sullivan give a talk on his book The Disaffected: Britain’s Occupation of Philadelphia During the American Revolution. As a semi-avid fan of American Revolution history, I hadn’t previously thought much about the disaffected. As a marketer, I realize an analogous group today may deserve more attention when considering loyalty.




The Disaffected During the American Revolution

Most historical documents and stories about the Revolution are about the people who played active roles – Patriots and Loyalists. This makes sense because they were the leaders and as the saying goes, history is written by the victors.

However, like our current political parties, neither the Patriots or the Loyalists had over 50% of public support during the late 1700s.

Aaron thoroughly researched the Disaffected, those who were not loyal to either side. They wanted to live their lives, rather than fight a war on either side. In one famous example, the Whitehall family stayed in their house during a battle to the point that even when a cannon ball came through their wall. The wife just moved her sewing machine downstairs and kept sewing!

When the Patriots occupied Philadelphia there were almost 10,000 soldiers in the militia. When the British occupied that number dwindled to less than 1,000. The former militia didn’t leave Philadelphia to stay with Washington’s army just as they didn’t leave with the British when the Patriots took over again. Comparing the times of occupation demonstrate the scale of these disaffected people who were not motivated sufficiently by either side.

They didn’t believe in either perspective enough to make sacrifices.


The Disaffected for Marketers

If you’re a marketer reading this, you may already see where my mind was going. Brands spend a lot of time trying to ‘build loyalty’. It’s frequently an objective to grow the business. However, if we consider 200+ years of American history, that looks like an unrealistic expectation or at least has a major blind spot. The reality is that people will continue going about their lives, choosing brands when they are most suitable for the given occasion.

Byron Sharp’s research in How Brands Grow support this reality. He recommends maximizing the reach of branded communications to convert as many light purchasers as possible. Additionally, he shows that loyalty programs cost companies more than they convince light purchasers to be loyal. The vast majority of potential buyers simply will not be loyal to a given company.

However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore people once they make their first purchase. A 5% increase in retention can increase profitability 25-95%.


So how do we persuade the disaffected?

To gain participation, the patriots used a variety of tactics during the Revolution, which they implemented when they had control over a given area. These included demanding membership in the militia, requiring people to take an oath of loyalty, confiscating resources and silencing opposing voices.

With the omnipresence of social media, silencing opposing voices is no longer possible. Businesses don’t have the ability to take resources from people unless it’s their own services, which would be self-defeating.


Social Proof

The other two, however provide potential opportunities for marketers. Motivating public opinion is now even more effective today, with individual “oaths” replaced by testimonials, online reviews and social media sharing. These public oaths build trust with prospective customers, influencing a critical stage of consideration in the purchase journey.



Memberships & Subscriptions

While brands don’t have a “militia”, many do offer memberships. In the B2B space, high switching cost has the highest correlation of any marketing or sales activity with business growth. Memberships have fueled the boom of SaaS businesses. Consumer marketing is not different in this aspect, just a different scale of switching cost. 

Memberships change the dynamics of each individual purchase decision. A non-member makes a choice between multiple options on equal footing. Price, value and convenience all start at a zero baseline. A membership gives a boost to one or more of these aspects, such as reducing the price per purchase or increasing the value received in a transaction. This is one of the main benefits of subscription marketing.

Let’s consider this in the Revolution time period. A militia member is better off working with his or her fellow militia rather than taking aim at them. Compare that to an individual home owner being approached by a single Patriot or Loyalist at their door. The Patriot would need to have a better proposition than the Loyalist at that time to get the individual’s support. They would need to promise more benefits for a victory (value), have a stronger army (brand attributes) or ask for less commitment (price). If the individual is already part of a militia, it would make more sense to stay on that side even if it’s a weaker proposition rather than shooting fellow militia men. The decision makes sense both emotionally and rationally.



Remember the largest and most difficult group to build loyalty with

History provides many useful insights for us today. The disaffected have been a mainstay in America since the beginning and brands should realize they are part of the consumer reality as well. So next time you are thinking about loyalty, don’t forget the group that is likely a much larger portion of your potential buyers. How will you motivate the disaffected to purchase your brand rather than the competition?

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