• September 24, 2021
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Customers Seek Comfort in This Year's Loyalty Leaders, Brand Keys Finds

Desperate for a return to normalcy after 18 months of COVID-19 related pandemonium, consumers this year are seeking solace in established loyalty leaders like Amazon, Apple, Domino's, Netflix, Discover, and Instagram, Brand Keys reported in its 2021 Loyalty Leaders List.

Brand Keys also found that consumers chose to recognize brands with established loyalty bona fides rather than acknowledge new brands. This year's survey, a cross-category examination of brand loyalty, included 1,260 brands in 112 categories.

The 2021 loyalty rankings describe a desperate desire by consumers for a return to normalcy. Over the past year loyalty has experienced a COVID-induced medical and marketplace trial-by-fire, "the toughest test of customer loyalty we've measured in nearly 40 years conducting loyalty research," noted Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president.

Brands can act as surrogates for emotional values absent from consumers' lives, but brands with the high levels of customer loyalty provide solace too and are six times more likely to fulfill that role in uncertain circumstances, including lockdowns, product shortages, and supply chain missteps, according to Passikoff.

This year, brands like Home Depot, PayPal, Clorox, Hulu, and Purell managed to maintain loyalty leads established during the initial year of the pandemic.

The 2021 Top 20 Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders were as follows:

  1. Amazon (retail);
  2. Apple (smartphones);
  3. >Netflix;
  4. Domino's;
  5. Amazon (video streaming);
  6. Disney+;
  7. Google;
  8. WhatsApp;
  9. Instagram;
  10. Nike;
  11. Home Depot;
  12. Discover;
  13. PayPal;
  14. Samsung;
  15. Apple (tablets);
  16. YouTube;
  17. Hyundai;
  18. Hulu;
  19. UPS;
  20. Trader Joe's.

"The COVID and economic crises hit certain categories harder than others," Passikoff said, "and while these loyalty assessments reflect true brand allegiance, it's fair to note there were categories consumers either did not have access to or immediate need of. Additionally, there are always new brands which appear in the top 100, albeit significantly fewer this year.

Brands new to the Loyalty Leaders List this year included TikTok (#21), Apple TV (#26), Levi Strauss (#46), Red Bull (#61), Walmart.com (#64), Crest (#65), Svedka (#86), and Lululemon (#90).>

Brands returning to the list this year are truly representative of consumers' desires for a return to marketplace and lifestyle regularity, Passikoff added. They included McDonald's (#72), Shake Shack (#80), Mastercard (#81), Call of Duty (#82), Konica-Minolta (#93), and iTunes (#95).

Brands that dropped out of the top-100 this year included cosmetic brands Lancôme, Estee Lauder, and Clinique; vodka brands Grey Goose and Ketel One; insurance brands Progressive and Farmers; as well as LG, Ben & Jerry's, and Sam Adams.

Brands with the largest loyalty-list gains this year included: Pinterest (up 22 places), Chobani ( up 21), Lyft and Old Navy (both up 17), GEICO, Ford, and Dick's Sporting Goods (all up 15), Purell (up 14), Chase (up 12) and Square (up 10).

Brands that saw the greatest losses in customer loyalty rank included Zara (down 27 places), Costco (down 23), USAA and Budweiser (down 19), T-Mobile and State Farm (down 18), Haagen-Dazs (down 16), New Balance and Sam' Club (down 14), and Zappos (down 9).

The rankings, Passikoff expalins, are significant because loyalty metrics are always predictive of future consumer consumer behavior. "It's axiomatic. The stronger the loyalty, the better the behavior shown toward a brand. The better behavior represented by sales, the stronger a brand's bottom line," he said.

"Loyalty is always about connection and expectations," Passikoff said, noting that the brands that connect emotionally with consumers and can meet their mostly-emotional expectations always do up to six times better during crises.

"Brands that handle loyalty correctly always do better than their competition. And brands that make loyalty and emotional engagement a priority, show up on our Loyalty Leaders List, but more important, they show up on consumers' shopping lists," he added.

Unlike economic-use models that rely on historical data and profitability conjecture, Brand Keys' rankings are entirely consumer-driven, measuring the emotional and rational aspects of each consumer's decision process in the moment.

"The good news is the real brand loyalty paradigm is easily understood. The better news is it can be quantified, predicted, and integrated into any brand's research efforts," Passikoff concluded. "The best news is that loyalty correlates very highly with customer behavior and sales."

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