By Robert Passikoff
The combination of consumer empowerment via the Internet and social networking, ever-inflating consumer expectations, and experience with price promotions and discounting have finally reached saturation-levels, triggering a tipping point in the branded world, where emotional engagement is the dominant driver of purchase decisions and brand loyalty.
The indisputable primacy of emotional engagement with successful brands is the critical finding in the 17th annual 2013 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index® (CLEI), conducted by the New York-based brand and customer loyalty and engagement consultancy, Brand Keys.
It should come as no any surprise to marketers that people seek greater levels of emotional engagement with branded products and services if they are to remain loyal customers. The rule of thumb should be to view the purchase decision-making process as more emotional than rational with estimates in most categories reporting a 70:30 emotional / rational ratio.
Marketers have made some initial stabs at trying to understand emotional engagement via neuromarketing, facial coding and brain activity measures, which are assumptive and not generalizable, but none of these techniques identify what products and services need to do to remain successful brands.
Top Brands for Customer Loyalty / Engagement
Brands – products and services that consumers do not see as being freely interchangeable – that appear atop the 2013 CLEI survey, include: Samsung (taking the #1 spot from Apple in the Smartphone category), Amazon (took the #1 spot from Apple in the Tablet category and kept its’ #1 ranking for E-readers), and Hyundai and Ford, which tied for #1 in the Automotive category, all exhibit higher delivery against emotional engagement drivers.
For example, increased expectation in personalization and a sense of enhanced personal productivity in the smartphone category contributed to Samsung’s triumph over Apple. Unfortunately, those dimensions of brand equity don’t show up in tracking studies, in ‘neuro-sensiomotor responses to market stimuli,’ or in digital traffic counts. You need to identify the key emotional engagement drivers to do that.
For the Brand Keys 2013 survey, 39,000 consumers, 18 to 65 years of age, drawn from the nine US Census Regions, self-selected the categories in which they are consumers, and brands for which they are customers. Seventy percent (70%) were interviewed by phone, twenty-five percent (25%) via face-to-face interviews (to include cell phone-only households), and 5% participated online.
Assessments are based on an independently-validated technique that fuses rational and emotional aspects of the categories to identify the drivers for the category Ideal, and to determine how well the brand meets – or exceeds – expectations consumers hold for the category Ideal. The proprietary research technique combines psychological inquiry with higher-order statistical analyses to deliver a verified test/re-test reliability of 0.93, with results generalizable at the 95% confidence level. This method has been successfully used in B2B and B2C categories in 35 countries around the world.
Two New Categories
While two new categories, Natural Food Stores and Sporting Goods and Recreational Retailers, were added to the 2013 survey, some categories have become so commoditized that, although consumer are aware of their names, they have lost any sense of ‘brandness’, become reduced in the number of national providers, or are becoming technologically obsolete, that it’s brought reduced year’s CLEI assessments to 54 categories and 400 brands.
Below are the brands with the highest levels of consumer engagement in their respective categories. The percentages indicate the emotional engagement strength achieved, versus a category-specific Ideal calculated as 100%.
Airline: US Airways (85%)
Athletic Footwear: Sketchers (86%)
Automotive: Ford/Hyundai (93%)
Bank: JP Morgan Chase (79%)
Beer (Light): Coors Light (89%)
Beer (Regular): Coors/Sam Adams (90%)
Breakfast Cereal: Cheerios (91%)
Car Insurance: State Farm (82%)
Car Rental: Avis (92%)
Casual Dining: Applebee’s (82%)
Coffee; Dunkin’ Donuts (90%)
Computer (Laptops): Samsung (91%)
Cosmetics (Luxury): Clinique (93%)
Credit Card; Discover (94%)
Diapers: Pampers (95%)
E-Readers: Kindle (92%)
Evening News Shows: ABC (97%)
Flat Screen TV: Samsung (88%)
Gasoline: Shell (89%)
Hotel (Luxury); Inter-Continental (82%)
Hotel (Upscale): Hilton/Marriott (81%)
Hotel (Midscale): Best Western (86%)
Hotel (Economy): Days Inn (88%)
Insurance: New York Life (81%)
Major League Gaming: Call of Duty – Modern Warfare (93%)
Major League Sports: National Football League (86%)
MFP Office Copier: Canon/Konica Minolta (81%)
Morning News Show: Good Morning, America (ABC) (94%)
Mutual Funds: American Funds (79%)
Natural Food Stores: Whole Foods (93%)
Online Brokerage: Fidelity.com (85%)
Online Retailers: Amazon (96%)
Online Travel Sites: Expedia (88%)
Packaged Coffee: Dunkin’ (95%)
Parcel Delivery: UPS (87%)
Pet Food (Canned) for Cats: Fancy Feast (93%)
Pet Food (Canned) for Dogs: Cesar (94%)
Pizza: Domino’s (84%)
Printers: Canon (88%)
Quick-Serve Restaurants: Subway (95%)
Retail Store (Apparel): J. Crew (82%)
Retail Store (Department): Kohl’s (80%)
Retail Store (Discount): Walmart (89%)
Retail Store (Home Improvement): Home Depot (90%)
Retail Store (Sporting/Recreational Goods): Dick’s (83%)
Search Engine: Google (85%)
Smartphones: Samsung (87%)
Social Networking Sites: Facebook (88%)
Soft Drinks (Diet): Diet Coke (89%)
Soft Drink (Regular): Coke (90%)
Tablets: Amazon (92%)
Toothpaste: Colgate (94%)
Vodka: Grey Goose (91%)
Wireless Phone Service: AT&T (87%)
11 Categories Are No Longer “Brands”
Kudos to companies that have sustained their brands, and continue to create meaningful differentiation. Consumers in those categories have, as they’ve done for nearly 20 years via our emotional and predictive metrics, indicated that their expectations regarding ‘brand’ have again increased. Brands better able to meet consumer expectations are surrogates for added-value, engendering higher levels of loyalty than those based on the primacy of product and promotion.
This year though, many products and services that consumers formerly viewed as ‘brands’ are now regarded as comparable in all key attributes that drive purchase in their categories, making real brands and engagement increasingly rare, but more profitable,
Brand Value Decreasing in CPG…
However, of the categories surveyed last year, we found 11 categories, mostly CPG, where the importance of brand or emotional brand value has decreased or disappeared entirely. That’s the first time we’ve seen such consumer reaction. Of course, companies should have expected it would happen eventually as one cannot sustain a market on constant low-lower-lowest pricing strategies and promotions, and expect your offering to be seen as different or better than the competition, which is doing precisely the same thing.
Brand Keys emotionally-based engagement and loyalty metrics found that in the 11 categories they had formerly measured (OTC Allergy Meds, Cosmetics, Facial Moisturizer, Hair Color, Shampoo, Conditioner, Laundry Detergent, OTC Pain Relievers, Paper Towels, Pasta Sauce
, and Tooth Whiteners) the product evaluations by the brands’ own customers were found to be statistically identical.
While the names of products were known, consumer choice is, for the most part, not driven by awareness. Purely rational aspects still drive these categories –primacy of product (does it do what it claims well enough that I don’t complain?), location (is it on the shelves where I shop?), is it selling at a good price (where’s my coupon?) – but that doesn’t drive emotional engagement or brand loyalty.
Advertising and promotion does drive consumer behaviour but no matter how entertaining the ad, it’s extraordinarily less powerful than being able to leverage the emotional aspects of the product and service. If all you stand for is ‘shampoo,’ you’ve become a product ‘placeholder’, whose name people know but don’t know for anything in particular and has no (brand) advantage in the marketplace.
Technology has “genetically modified” some categories so that, while they still exist, they are shrinking rapidly. The 2013 CLEI found five such categories: Cellphones (consumers moving to smartphones), Blu-Ray players, Digital Point & Shoot, Digital SLR cameras, and Movie Rentals. The categories still exist, but consumers are migrating to newer technology platforms.
Four (4) categories Brand Keys has measured in past waves had become so “compressed” in terms of actual competition, that there is no longer a reasonably sized population of national brands to examine (defined as more than three, which is why Retail Electronics disappeared from the evaluations several years ago). This year these included: Drug Stores, Retail Office Supplies, Price Clubs, and Packaged Ice-Cream.
Brand Keys’ assessments provide the emotionally-based diagnostics to explain this migration to ‘placeholderism.’. Taken together this changes the paradigm of ‘brand’ and ‘brand value’ in the new consumer-controlled marketplace.
Brands That Are Still Brands – The Grail
Real brand loyalty and emotional engagement remains the Holy Grail of marketing. Loyalty is still a leading-indicator of consumer behaviour and of profitability. Brand power is one of the first measures of competitive advantage that investors seek, since companies that can leverage their brands always profit from enduring customer loyalty that drives sales.
About the author
Robert Passikoff is president at Brand Keys.
A complete listing of category and brand rankings can be found at