Last year, the Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI) found customers were looking for “delight” from their brands. This year evidence mounts that it’s still delight that will continue to define the consumer landscape, and what brands can do to cement customer loyalty and profitability.

Last month 49,000 consumers self-selected among 598 brands in 83 diverse categories in which they are customers, and assessed brands based on an independently-validated technique that fuses rational and emotional aspects of the categories, using a combination of psychological inquiry and higher-order statistical analyses. It’s been used in B2B and B2C categories in 35 countries around the world and is proven to identify the real category drivers for the consumers’ Ideal. Along the way it allows us to determine how well brands meet – sometimes even exceed – expectations consumers hold for the Ideal in their category.

Across the brands and categories surveyed, attributes relating to “experience” and “brand values” were found to exert the strongest impact on customer decision-making, category-expectations, and engagement with brands. And while expectation levels for delight vary by category – consumers do not, after all, buy computers the way they buy colas – the top-20 brands, best at creating customer delight were found to be:

  1. Apple (tablets)
  2. Apple (smartphones)
  3. Amazon (e-retailer)
  4. Kindle (e-reader)
  5. Facebook (social networks)
  6. Hyundai (automotive)
  7. Samsung (cellphones)
  8. Discover (credit cards)
  9. YouTube (video streaming)
  10. Google (search engine)
  11. Call of Duty (gaming)
  12. Mary Kay (cosmetics)
  13. McDonald’s (quick-serve food)
  14. Haagen Dazs (packaged ice cream)
  15. Patron (tequila)
  16. Grey Goose (vodka)
  17. Crest Whitestrips (tooth whiteners)
  18. Walgreen’s (drug stores)
  19. Clairol (hair color)
  20. AT&T (wireless phone service)

Many industry pundits have looked at the pressures on price and drawn the erroneous conclusion that brands have lost their value. Quite the opposite is true. Real brands are more valuable than ever.

Brands, on the other hand, that lack meaning and differentiation, are punished. Such products and services have turned into ‘category placeholders;’ known, but not know for anything in particular. Relegated to a space closer to commodities than brands. And of one thing you can be sure, consumers do not look to commodities in their search for delight.

The complete listing of the 83 category rankings can be found here.

There’s an old, Russian proverb that goes, “differentiation and delight grow on one stalk.” And that’s another thing of which you can be sure: brands that understand and act on that axiom are the ones that always reap tremendous returns to their bottom line.

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