Consumers seek emotional ties with brands
In the US, beauty brands such as Mary Kay, Estee Lauder, Crest Whitestrips, and Maybelline now account for one third (32%) of the top 100 'loyalty leaders' according to the annual brand loyalty survey conducted by Brand Keys, which identified some surprising shifts in consumers' loyalties.
Perhaps not surprisingly, social networking web sites - a new category for the 2011 Brand Keys 100 Loyalty Leaders index - contained three out of the six brands that consumers identified as not only being in the top 100 but in the top 25 brands that generate the strongest consumer loyalty.
"Brand loyalty has always been primarily driven by emotion," explained Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys' founder and president. "The rankings on the 2011 list make it clear that more than ever consumers are seeking to connect emotionally with brands that actually stand for something, and to connect with each other too."
The Loyalty Leaders index includes 528 brands in 79 categories, with brands in the top 100 including Amazon, Apple iPhone, Facebook, Samsung cell phones, Apple computers, Zappos, Kindle, Patron Tequila, and Mary Kay cosmetics.
The top 50 comprised eight general categories. Beauty brands account for 32% of the brands with the most loyalty. According to Amy Shea, Brand Keys executive vice president for brand development, "The emotional engagement that women share with their favourite beauty brands is very powerful. But that emotional resonance extends to technology too, as consumers seek to customise their life experience more than ever."
Technology brands account for 20% of the top 50. Samsung appears to be 2011's technological loyalty leader, winning mentions in four categories: cell phone (#4), computers (#44), smart phones (#57) and HDTV (#80). Technology Loyalty Leaders included Apple (twice, for iPhone and computers), Samsung (twice, for cell phones and computers); Kindle, Google, LG, Bing, Sanyo, and Sony Ericsson. Passikoff noted: "Nothing today is better at fuelling a consumer connection than technology, although there were actually fewer technology brands in the top 50 in 2011 than there were in 2010."
Mirroring the 2010 rankings, 16% of the top 50 Loyalty Leaders for 2011 were retail brands (both bricks and clicks). Amazon moved to the #1 spot, displacing the Apple iPhone (#2). Other top retail brands included Zappos (#6, and new to the list in 2011), Wal-Mart (#13, down from #3 in 2010), J. Crew (#21, down from #13), Target (#33, down from #26), Sam's Club (#38, down from #29), Kohl's (#44, unchanged), and BJ's (#50, down from #43). Other retailers generally ranked lower than in the previous year: "Perhaps this is an indicator of the challenges wrought by the rough economy as retailers struggle to differentiate on something more than price," suggested Shea.
Of the top 50 brands, 12% were alcoholic beverages (the same as in 2010) in the two categories surveyed: vodka and tequila. In 2011, the vodka category leaders included Grey Goose, Ketel One, 3-Olives, and Stolichnaya. For tequila, the leaders were Patron and Don Julio. No beer brand made it to the top 50 list for 2011. However, it is interesting to note that Starbucks soared from #432 to #100, Dunkin Donuts coffee rose from #14 to #12, and McDonald's coffee (#26, down from #18 in 2010) were the only other beverage brands to make it into the top 50 loyalty rankings.
Among the brands that showed the greatest gains in loyalty (vaulting them all into the top 100) were Starbucks (+352); Skechers (+290); Ford (+237); and Overstock.com (+150). Among the brands in the top 100 that saw the greatest losses in loyalty were Nokia (-63), Blackberry (-51), Chanel cosmetics (-23), Eucerin skin moisturiser (-23), True Value (-21), and 3-Olives Vodka (-18).
"Some brands have, of course, suffered loyalty losses as consumers shifted to less expensive brands that had considerable meaning," explained Shea. "But brands which understand that real emotional connections can serve as a surrogate for added value can create stronger loyalty bonds no matter what the economy is doing."