The meaning of consumer loyalty is undergoing transition. Traditionally, the concept has implied consumer loyalty to brands, but “Flipping the Switch on Brand Loyalty,” a new research study from global media agency Wavemaker, in partnership with BuzzFeed, highlights that today, consumers expect, if not demand, that brands be “loyal” to them.

The study found that brand narratives, rather than focusing on product attributes and how it performs, follow how the product fits in and enhances consumers’ lives. Karima Zmerli, chief data science officer at Wavemaker, says, “The study illuminates a critical and often misunderstood part of the purchase journey that we’ve been studying at Wavemaker. The Priming Stage, also known as everyday life, is where consumers are formulating their opinion of brands or ‘biases’ and identifying those which best reflect their values. Layer on platforms like Amazon acting as filters or curators, and it’s grown more difficult for marketers to impact and convert at point of purchase.”

Among the research’s findings is that consumers are rarely exclusive in their brand choices, and most often select from a small set of brands—72 percent consider two to four brands when making a purchase, 86 percent are open to switching brands when making a purchase and 22 percent of consumers start from scratch each time.

The study also found that consumers aren’t looking to brands for direction and authority but they expect brands to cater to them, that the brand serves the “brand of me.” This was found to be specifically true among the younger segments. Waverider and Buzzfeed report that 42 percent of consumers are most likely to stick with a brand if people like them think highly of it, 39 percent are most likely to stick with a brand that gives back, and 38 percent are most likely to stick with a brand that is socially responsible.

Digital platforms are also influencing how consumers view brands, as it allows them to filter down to only the types of products and brands they want to see and consider. However, their need for simplicity has given rise to a heightened expectation of relevancy. The research found that 90 percent feel they can be more choosey because there are more brands available, 71 percent like it when online retailers curate what they should buy and 61 percent often purchase a brand Amazon recommends instead of one they’ve purchased before and/or planned to purchase.

“Brand loyalty has dramatically shifted with more choices than ever and purchase decisions being weighed by new factors,” says Ashmeed Ali, senior director of research at BuzzFeed. “Today brands must treat all audiences as if they are first-time buyers and acknowledge the increasing demand for brands to remain continuously relevant as they face the expectations from consumers to be more personalized and customized than ever before. At BuzzFeed we leverage a deep understanding of our audience to produce hyper-relevant content at scale, and this emphasis on remaining relevant should be a priority for all brands in an increasingly cluttered marketplace.”

The research identifies a new imperative for marketers, as they need to better understand their audience or risk being filtered out.

“Ultimately, it’s about changing the way we think about audiences—quality over quantity,” Zmerli adds. “It’s no longer about only prioritizing the ‘where’ but rather, prioritizing the ‘who’ based on how consumers actually behave. By pinpointing specific behavior, marketers gain richer insights at differing points of view to scale personalization and build lasting impressions along the path to purchase.”