AT&T, Hyundai, Ford, Domino's, Dunkin', Google, Discover, Avis, Konica Minolta and the NFL, all maintained their #1 category positions in a challenging environment where consumer expectations have increased nearly 28% over 2014, according to the Brand Keys '2015 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index' (CLEI) survey.
Brands that were rated #1 in their categories for the first time include: Air Canada, Facebook, Kellogg's Nutri-Grain, Chipotle, Exxon Mobile, Nationwide, and Travelocity. Ratings are based on a brand's ability to meet customers' expectations better than the competition.
"In a marketplace where brands struggle to create meaningful differentiation and engagement, those better able to identify customers' expectations and address them via authentic emotional values will see bottom-line results," said Brand Keys' CEO, Robert Passikoff. "While marketers have only recently acknowledged the importance of consumers expectations, it's something Brand Keys has tracked for 20 years. Empowered and socially networked consumers have come to expect everything from brands, particularly as regards emotional gratification and engagement. That's created an environment marked by extraordinarily high levels of emotional expectations."
Meanwhile brands have managed to improve their ability to satisfy consumers' expectations by only 7% this year. Brands able to meet consumers' emotional expectations have higher engagement power, more loyal customers and greater greater sales and profits, but the difficult part is accurately measuring this gap and determining what emotional values can help a brand successfully fill it.
Two new categories - App-based Ridesharing and Breakfast Bars - were added to the 2015 CLEI survey. "We've seen high consumer interest and strong brand growth in these categories," said Passikoff, "and included them as replacements for two older categories whose players had lost any sense of differentiation to become interchangeable (Breakfast Cereals and Diapers)."
At the same time, 36 new brands appeared in the 2015 CLEI brand list. In order to get into the list, consumers simply tell Brand Keys which brands they actually use and they need to be mentioned enough times to provide a statistically generalizable sample. "A significant number of new brand mentions tells us that consumers are looking for brands that will better meet their expectations on the emotional side of the purchase equation," said Passikoff.
The 36 new brands brought this year's 2015 CLEI assessment total to 64 categories and 540 brands. New brands include: Microsoft Surface, Under Armour, Denny's, Skull Candy, Atkin's, Google Flights, Ch@t, Reddit, Pinnacle vodka, Nature's Valley, Kashi, Anthropologie, Forever 21, WestJet, Lyft, and Footlocker, plus seven hotel brands.
These were the brands with the highest levels of consumer engagement with regard to their ability to meet expectations in their respective categories (greatest engagement first):
- Airlines: Air Canada
- Allergy Medications (OTC): Claritin
- App-based Rideshare: Uber
- Athletic Footwear: Nike
- Automotive: Ford / Hyundai
- Banks: Chase
- Beer (Light): Sam Adams Light
- Beer (Regular): Sam Adams
- Breakfast Bars: Kellogg's Nutri-Grain
- Car Rental: Avis
- Casual/Fast Casual Dining: Chipotle
- Coffee (Out-of-Home): Dunkin' / Starbucks
- Coffee (Packaged): Dunkin'
- Computers (Laptops): Apple
- Cosmetics (Luxury): Lancome
- Cosmetics (Mass): L'Oreal / Mary Kay
- Credit Cards: American Express / Discover
- E-readers: Kindle
- Evening News: NBC
- Flat Screen TV: Samsung
- Gasoline (petrol): Exxon Mobil
- Headphones: Beats by Dr. Dre
- Hotel (Economy) Wyndham Microtel
- Hotel (Midscale): Best Western
- Hotel (Upscale): Hyatt
- Hotel (Luxury): Fairmont
- Instant Messaging Apps: WhatsApp
- Insurance (Car): USAA
- Insurance (Home): Nationwide
- Insurance (Life): Allstate
- Major League Sports: NFL
- Major League Video Gaming: Call of Duty
- MFP Office Copier: Konica Minolta
- Morning News: Good Morning America (ABC)
- Mutual Funds: American Funds
- Natural Food Stores: Whole Foods
- Online Brokerage: Scottrade.com
- Online Music: Pandora
- Online Payment Services: PayPal
- Online Retailers: Amazon
- Online Travel Site: Travelocity
- Online Video Streaming: Netflix
- Pain Relievers (OTC): Aleve
- Parcel Delivery: FedEx
- Pet Food (Cats): Purina
- Pet Food (Dogs): Science Diet
- Pizza: Domino's
- Price Clubs: Costco
- Printers: Canon
- Quick-Serve Restaurants: Subway
- Retail (Apparel): J. Crew
- Retail (Dept. Store): Marshall's / TJ Maxx
- Retail (Discount): Walmart
- Retail (Home Improvement): Home Depot
- Retail (Sporting Goods): Dick's
- Search Engine: Google
- Smartphone: Apple
- Social Networking Sites: Facebook
- Soft Drinks (Diet): Diet Coke
- Soft Drinks (Reg.): Coke
- Tablets: Apple
- Toothpaste: Crest
- Vodka: Grey Goose
- Wireless Phone Service: AT&T
A complete listing of the 64 categories can be found here.
Emotions Drive Highest Expectations
Assessments from the 2015 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index found the gap between what consumers expect and what brands deliver is driven almost entirely by emotional values. More emotionally driven categories have higher expectations that escalate faster. More rational categories have lower expectations and are more stable.
"Marketers acknowledge consumer expectations is a new area they need to address to guarantee engagement and profitability, shifting from a 'try to do it better' approach to one of 'engage the consumer differently'. Unfortunately, without predictive emotional engagement metrics many brands try to 'shoehorn' values that they've seen work in other categories from their own. If they do that, they shouldn't be surprised when they don't work," said Passikoff.
The 2015 CLEI survey identified the following categories as having some of the highest overall consumer expectations (and the specific emotional values that can help brands better meet customers' expectations are shown in brackets):
- App-based Rideshare (My needs come first)
- Athletic Footwear (Personal innovation and performance optimization)
- Luxury Cosmetics (Nurturing/Optimizing my appearance)
- Headphones (My very personal experience)
- Luxury Hotels (Service I deserve)
- Instant Messaging Apps (The ability to matter)
- Smartphones (I can do anything from this phone)
"Consumer expectations always grow so being attentive to the engagement expectation gap in one's category presents a brand a real opportunity. If a marketer does something to increase a brand's engagement level they see more positive consumer behaviour in the marketplace," concluded Passikoff. "Brands that are assessed as better meeting expectations held for the Ideal always have greater market share and are more profitable than their competition. All marketers need is an accurate answer to these two simple questions: What do my customers expect, and what values will fulfil their expectations?".