Product Brand loyalty or blind loyalty: does it make sense?

What Microsoft feared nearly a decade ago has come true. The mobile market has become a two-horse race, with just some extras on the sidelines. With only Android and iOS really to choose from, who do you think has more loyal users? Apple is often cited for having fiercely loyal fans but, surprisingly enough, for the first time, Android loyalty has exceeded iOS 91% to 88%, respectively. But before either camp brings out the champagne or the pitchforks, one really has to ask: does it matter at all?

What happened?

To be clear, nothing really happened. The Consumer Intelligence Research Partners' (CIRP) study shows that customer loyalty to either Android or iOS has been steadily on the rise. Except for a dip in iOS retention in late 2014. Perhaps if not for that temporary decline, iOS would have overtaken Android with that exact same growth rate.

And before Android users celebrate, CIRP co-founder Josh Lowitz has some insights that put that victory in a less impressive light. There are more Android users than iOS ones, that much is a fact. But to keep the iOS line growing stead, that would require an influx of more Android users switching to iOS. In contrast, Android needs less iOS refugees to keep its rate up. In other words, Android may have the higher numbers, but it may also have more people moving to iOS than the other way around.

For businesses

So what is all this Android vs iOS loyalty all about and does it even matter. For the businesses running or banking on Android or iOS, that's a resounding yes. That means a big yes for Google, Apple, Samsung, and other Android OEMs. Brand loyalty means that people will keep using their products longer. That means, in a sense, locking them a lot longer into your services. That ultimately means making more money, or at least a steady influx of money.

Brand loyalty and customer retention are why companies work so hard to not only keep their current customers happy but to also convince those from the other side to jump ship. That last part is what sometimes causes tension, confusion, and sometimes even lawsuits, when companies fight and sometimes defame each other in order to pull their customers from other their grasp. In the Android versus iOS context, that usually involves things like saying how insecure one platform is or how closed off the other is.

For users

For users, however, brand loyalty is really nothing more than a badge, pretty much like sports team loyalty. Sometimes just as passionate, zealous, or even violent. It gives a sense of belonging or kinship to a group with similar interests and experiences. In practical terms, however, it matters very little.

iOS users are loyal to the iPhone because they don't exactly have any other hardware to choose from. If someone else starts making iOS phones, especially better than Apple, you'll see that iPhone loyalty wane instantly. Likewise, not all Android users are loyal to Android because of Android. Often they're loyal to Pixels, Samsungs, LGs, Xiaomis, and the like. Often they might even be loyal to the brand of Android they only know from their OEM, not realizing how different Android might be from other OEMs.

Of course, there are those that are loyal to iOS or Android for the very platforms themselves. They agree with this or that way of doing things, of presenting things, of designing things. But then comes along a new version of iOS or Android that turns things around or yanks out those favorite features. Then you hear gnashing and weeping and the door slamming on the way out.

And then there are those who couldn't care less about iOS or Android or Windows or Mac. It just so happens that the app they fell in love with or grew up with is only available in one particular OS. And when some of those become available in other operating systems, then the operating system becomes even less relevant. Then again, they might have become loyal to the app in the same way.

Blind loyalty

So what does brand loyalty bring? In this particular context, nothing relevant to users other than bragging rights. Indirectly, they do bring benefits, since consumer retention helps companies, which, in turn, retains or improves services that benefit users.

But not all those services are ultimately tied to those two platforms anyway. Brand loyalty, in fact, can actually become more harmful in some cases when they force users into a box of their own making. Some may never consider or use this or that app because it's not made by this or that brand. Some won't try out other phones because they're too set in the ways of their old brands. Some would even go as far as admit that this or that OS is better but they're not going to use it because it's not iOS or Android.

Wrap-up: Breaking down barriers

We live in a world where the Internet has made the world a smaller place, where development happens at breakneck speeds, where features come and go, almost with no complete assurance they'll be there in the next version. We live in an age that sticking to a brand just because of that brand no longer makes a lot of sense.

Of course, there will be the argument that so and so brand is synonymous with quality. As can be proven so many times, that is only true for so long. There's no denying the fact that one brand, one platform, one app, will have better features and aspects than the others. But to equate those features to a brand and equate it for the long-term? Not exactly a sensible outlook.

Brand loyalty and customer retention are important for the companies that make these products, so hooray to the Googles, the Apples, and the Samsungs of the world. Those numbers, however, aren't always representative of the actual quality of their products. More of then than not, it's more representative of how good their marketing is.