Don’t settle for brand loyalty. Cultivate brand devotion.

Emotion plays a bigger role than ever in the way that people choose which brands they interact with. They want to be seen, and to be invited to be part of something; not as mere followers, but as disciples. As devotees. 

Illustration by Henri Campeã

Emotion plays a bigger role than ever in the way that people choose which brands they interact with. They want to be seen, and to be invited to be part of something; not as mere followers, but as disciples. As devotees. 

For decades, brands have focused on building loyalty. On becoming the obvious choice. On cramming their messaging full of features and claims that impress on the surface, and then, crucially, following through with a reliable product that makes repeating the same choice easy. The path to success and the path to becoming customers’ autopilot option were one and the same.

But that default loyalty isn’t enough anymore. 

Not in a time when challenger brands are springing up on the daily, intent to disrupt the status quo and show consumers that what they really want is something they never thought to need in their lives before. Not when buyers have the luxury of crowdsourcing reviews of every product they’re considering buying with a couple of keystrokes, and not when people’s expectations about what brands owe their customers, communities, and the world at large have changed so drastically. 

Today, emotion plays a bigger role than ever in the way that people choose which brands they interact with. People want brands that make them feel good - in their lives, and as citizens of the world. They want to be seen, and to be invited to be part of something; not as mere followers, but as disciples. As devotees. 

Case in point: I always have olive oil in my larder. For years, I had a preferred brand - it was a well known and trusted brand, it promised and delivered good quality, its glass bottle felt weighty and premium, and I always made the effort to hunt it out on the crowded supermarket shelf out of habit. I was, by all accounts, a loyal customer. 

But I wasn’t a devotee. I felt zero emotion when I made the repeat purchases, but didn’t expect to feel an emotional attachment to this particular category, so I never really questioned it.

Last year, I answered the call of a different oil brand. Graza didn’t just suit my needs by delivering a great product at a reasonable price, it made me covet the brand experience, and see myself as an experimental home chef. It inspired me to commit to actually cooking the dishes I always flagged in my cookbook but never got around to making, and made receiving an order and opening the package a real treat.

The disruptive approach to the bottle and therefore the ritual - shifting the typical glug to a squeeze - made cooking more fun. The paid advertising on social media didn’t annoy me, it reminded me to stock up. The partnerships with Bora Bora (non alc olive oil martini, anyone?) and Dusen Dusen (a long coveted oven mitts brand) reignited my relationships with those brands too through association.

Graza seems genuinely devoted to curating a customer experience that doesn’t just serve my life, but reflects it and adds to it. Abandoning my old functional favorite and becoming a Graza devotee wasn’t just easy; it was a pleasure. I’m no longer just stocking up on a kitchen essential - I’m in a devoted relationship with the brand. That’s the magic of brand devotion: it elevates a functional choice to an emotional one.

So what can brands do to up the ante and evolve from being the default option to the sought-after choice? To inspire passionate devotion instead of convenient loyalty?

Be devoted to your customer first.

If you want your customer to be devoted to you, you need to be devoted to them first. You have to make the effort to understand them above and beyond the functional exchange of goods and services taking place when they buy into your brand. You have to understand the role your product and brand plays in your customers’ lives. 

And as you continuously learn what your customer needs and wants, you have to consistently deliver it - not just when it comes to the functionality of your product or service, but when it comes to delivering on how your customer wants to feel, see themselves, and be seen, too. 

It’s about going beyond servicing your customer. Be devoted to delighting them, surprising them, making yourself invaluable to them by offering things they never even thought to want or need before, but quickly can’t imagine their life without, now that you’ve shown them the way.

During the early days of the pandemic, I adopted a dog. I’ll spare you the details, but raising a twelve-week-old puppy isn’t easy. Unsurprisingly, a myriad of brands exist for new dog owners. 

They know it’s a highly emotional time and there’s a never-ending list of things to organize – from flu shots and finding the right food, to pee pads and winter hoodies. 

I tried out plenty of products and services in the early days of my dog mom journey, but there’s only one brand I have remained devoted to throughout the three years since I adopted Coco: Barkbox. You can customise your box by adding details such as age, weight and allergies. You can add extra toys or treats as you like. Their monthly themes – such as Barkbuster Movie Night and Howloween Party – contain puns galore, with an attention to detail and consistently tongue-in-cheek humor that never feels overwrought. Barkbox understands how close we are to our dogs, and celebrates that every month with a shared unboxing ritual we both love.

Build community around your brand

Devotees are more than customers - they’re your loudest cheerleaders, your sounding board for new directions, and your most avid sources of recommendation. Word-of-mouth is the most valuable asset a brand can have - a recommendation from a friend is more valuable than any paid advertisement - but you don’t get that kind of endorsement through one-way marketing.

Consistent word-of-mouth support is borne out of a sense of community - one you need to create and invite people into if you want to cultivate devotion. 

How you show up as a brand - through your design and advertising comms, social media conversations, and other platforms online and in real life is where many evolutions from customer to devotee are bound to happen. 

So, show up for your people, and invite them to show up for you. 

Not sure how to do that in a meaningful way? It’s probably because you need to devote yourself more deeply to understanding your customer and what they need from a sense of community with your brand.

Don’t try to appeal to everyone

A couple of years ago, “blanding” was all the rage: brand design so minimalist, so stripped back that it could, in theory, be an avatar that any buyer could insert themselves into. There was a sense that brands needed to stop trying to communicate who they were to their customers, and let buyers project themselves onto the blank slate of the brand instead. 

It didn’t work. Customers couldn’t begin to develop loyalty - let alone devotion - to brands they couldn’t tell apart from a hundred others that looked, sounded, and behaved exactly the same. 

Brands hiding behind the smoke and mirrors of blanding lost valuable opportunities to relate to customers, to make them feel seen and understood through thoughtful, devoted efforts to connect. 

The truth is that your brand will never, can never, appeal to everyone. And besides, people are more likely to devote themselves to something they see as cool, niche, intimate, and/or new and in need of support. So why not devote yourself to those people, the ones who are really going to show up for you? Catch their attention through a strong point of view, and keep delivering on-point comms and services that remind them why they resonate with you.

Practice what you preach

Most brands have one clear differentiator. More time and effort should be spent on maintaining this than anything else. Especially if it’s purpose-driven, or otherwise focused on giving something back to the world. When that falls down, the damage is irreparable. 

If you want to win brand devotees based on a specific set of values, like sustainability or diversity, for example, you have to put your money where your mouth is. Show your customers that you share a devotion to the values you espouse. Know that devotion doesn’t result from talk; it results from provable action.

Plenty more brands get this wrong than get it right, but take that as an opportunity. People are looking for brands who make the impact they say they are going to - why shouldn’t that be you?

Don’t lose sight of what makes you unique as you scale

There’s always a danger that challenger brands will lose their magic as they grow. And while it's true that brands might encounter operational challenges that force a different approach, sometimes this can have a more damaging effect on how the brand is experienced or perceived.

Take Casper, which built devotion through word of mouth, a unique ‘one mattress for everyone’ offer, cute bicycles delivering boxed mattresses all over the city and unexpected joyful branding. Now that they’ve expanded, bloated their product offer and reduced the emphasis on maintaining the kind of community spirit that results in word of mouth recommendations, they’ve lost sight of what made them worthy of devotion in the first place. These days, Casper might have loyal customers, but not devoted ones.

On the flipside, a brand like Sweetgreen has kept a tight hold on what makes them unique, even as the business has exploded. The healthy eating chain has become a staple salad spot around the country, but it hasn’t changed its offer in an effort to please the masses: Sweetgreen is still catering first and foremost to the devotees that show up every day for lunch. The brand has invited new customers to get on board, but it’s never wavered from its mission. 

By listening to their loyal devotees and gaining a true understanding of their relationship with food and the broader impact on the world, they delivered the perfect brand evolution.

The solution embraced real ingredients, the natural cooking process, and the people behind the food. Resisting the urge to remove character to appeal to the masses (blanding), instead they took inspiration from hand-painted vintage cookbooks and created an expressive and expansive design language that feels familiar, yet endearing and playful. 


The most immediate way to become devoted to your customers, and to earn their devotion in return is to start listening - deeply and intently - and never stop. Brands that successfully cultivate devoted followings understand that the relationship they’re forging with their customers should feel like a neighorhood street, where everyone is watching out for each other and taking care of the shared space they occupy.

Listen to your customer, respond to their feedback, and keep iterating based on what you learn. But go further, too: listen to the world your customer inhabits. Pay attention to the shifting contexts in which your relationship to your customer exists. Be devoted to evolving with your customer, to evolving with them, to constantly earning their devotion through attention and anticipation of their needs.

Sister Mary makes brands famous by helping them build meaningful connections with their audiences. If you’d like to learn how your brand can inspire devotion, reach out to