There are words and ideas we use so often we have worn out their meaning. I think loyalty is one of them. Companies want loyal employees and loyal customers, brands want loyal followers, we want loyal partners. I suspect that if we were to empty the bag of “go to” words of just about any brand agency “loyal” will be there. If we go back to the word’s roots, it comes from “legal obligation”, and “conforming to the laws of honour“.
Not at all soft and fuzzy. It also, of course, cuts both ways. The bank that wants loyal customers wants them on its own terms, and will abandon them at a moments notice when the heat is on and it’s forecast profits look as bit wobbly. The same of course applies to employees – not a lot of hard moral duty or laws of honour there. As is often the case, few express it more succinctly than Dilbert.
In times of uncertainty, loyalty really matters. If we have to ask for it, we’ve lost the plot. Loyalty is visceral, underpinned by actions and reputation. When it’s abused, it is very, very difficult to repair.
We are all at the centre of our own loyalty map. Imagine for a moment that you’re in a large room, with all the people you know and all the products and services you buy scattered around you, and you have to arrange them around you. Those you are most loyal to closest to you, radiating outwards to those who you are least loyal. Then, in your mind pick any one of them and imagine what their loyaly map looks like. Where do you fit on their map?
Dunbar’s Number” argues that we cannot maintain more than around one hundred and fifty stable relationships, and loyalty is right up there in relationship terms. So now reduce the size of the room to one that will just hold one hundred and fifty, and organise them again radiating from you outwards. What do you see? How many, and who are now outside the room demanding or expressing loyalty?. They are not enemies, or bad people, they just don’t know who you are beyond their data capture system, and it’s hard to be loyal to a set of digits.
As we stumble about the other side of Covid -19 waiting for the next surprise, loyalty is going to be vital, and we will be defined by who we are loyal to and who is loyal to us.
Choose carefully, and then commit, come what may. We’re in for an adventure.