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Loyalty vs. Habit behaviour: What is the difference?

This year, Research by Design was one of the official partners for the annual Membership Excellence conference held in London which proved to be a successful day of many insightful talks from across the membership sector. One talk, delivered by Laura Chamberlain of Warwick University, raised a particularly thought-provoking point surrounding the importance of understanding differences between loyalty and habitual behaviours. Laura suggests that individuals tend to form habits to make life that little bit easier and more comfortable, therefore this convenience should not be mistaken for loyal custom to a brand or organisation.

So, what really are the differences between the two types of behaviours?

Habitual customers or members are usually not actively engaged since their feeling of comfort derives from a lack of thinking and awareness of their behaviours. When we routinely take part in a behaviour, we no longer need to consider the reasons for, or outcomes of, our actions and so become at ease with continually partaking with limited emotional engagement. However, loyal customers are ones who choose to repeatedly use a brand or organisation due to a specific reason, benefit or personal preference, causing them to be more engaged and invested. This means for membership organisations that loyal members are more likely to be active within the group, making the most of all the benefits offered, whereas habitual members will keep renewing without thought or intent to partake simply because this is routine.

Why do these differences occur, I hear you ask?

The difference in these types of behaviours and how they develop can be explained from a psychological perspective. Repeating a certain behaviour only within the same context can be a sign of a habit forming. Do you find yourself always stopping at that same coffee shopto get you through Monday mornings at work? We may all hate to admit it, but a habitual behaviour. This happens when an association forms for the individual between the reoccurring contextual cues, such as the location or time of day, and the response provoked by consuming the brand. On the other hand, if an individual continually opts to consume said brand in different contexts it can be viewed as a preference or loyalty towards the brand. Whilst habitual behaviour is an automatic response activated by context, loyalty is usually triggered through judgement processes resulting in choice of that brand (Tam, Wood and Ji, 2009).

When membership organisations send out their annual renewal reminder it may automatically cause habitual members to renew simply due to the familiar content and time of year. However, for loyal members it should trigger them to consider all the positives the membership provides and thus cause them to actively choose to renew.

In terms of membership organisations, the aim is to increase their levels of member engagement and build a lasting relationship with members by providing a sense of community. Considering this, they want a higher number of loyal members rather than those who have renewed only out of habit. One way of building this is by having a solid member value proposition to help organisations understand what members want and articulate the value of the membership to them in an effective, engaging way. This strengthened connection may result in membership renewal becoming a calculated ‘choice’ due to an increased perception/recognition of benefits rather than purely a convenience, making members feel more bonded to their professional association and less likely to drift away.

If your organisation is aiming to develop your own value proposition, take a look at our 8-step checklist to help you evaluate whether your current approach is fit-for-purpose. In addition, to utilise the expertise of the RbD team, get in touch for a chat about your needs and to learn how our Member Value Proposition Design workshop can help.



L. Tam, W. Wood, M.F. Ji., (2009) Chapter 3: Brand loyalty is not habitual. Handbook of brand relationships. 43-62. Retrieved from:

This entry was posted in Membership, tagged Membership, Consumer and posted on October 25, 2018

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