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As it’s President’s Day, it seemed appropriate to note how much Political Polarization and Tribalism and more fervent Social Activism Movements like #grabyourwallet, #MeToo, and #TimesUp have changed the face of brand engagement and consumer loyalty.

We noted these value shifts when examining the results of our Brand Keys 23rd annual Customer Loyalty Engagement Index. It turns out this is the first time since the Index was initiated nearly 25 years ago where basic tenets of consumer loyalty and engagement have been turned upside-down.

2018 winners included brands that maintained their category dominance: AT&T, Discover, Dunkin, Domino’s, Amazon, AVIS, Konica-Minolta and Hyundai.

New engagement opportunities were created for brands like Dropbox, WhatsApp, FOX, Dollar General, Spotify, Jack Daniels, Bugles, Instagram, Chapstick, and MSNBC.

This year the Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index examined 84 categories and 761 brands – from Automotive and OTC Allergy Medications to Computers, Fast-Casual Dining, Tax Preparation and Online Investing, Retail (of all types), Smartphones, Cable and Broadcast News, and Alcoholic Beverages, and a complete list of the Customer Loyalty Engagement Index’s 84 categories and winners can be found here.

How consumers view a category and how they will compare brands competing in that category changed dramatically in 94% of the categories tracked. That shift resulted in a brand engagement and loyalty transformations and an accompanying shift in brand leadership in 58% of the categories.

This year the top 5 sectors that showed the largest, overall shifts in category values and path-to-purchase dynamics were:

  1. Instant Messaging
  2. Retail
  3. Broadcast and Cable News
  4. Online Investing
  5. Social Networking

“Brand engagement” is still best defined as how well a brand meets the expectations consumers hold for the values that drive purchase behavior in a given category. But category political polarization and social activism have shaken those values to their core. If marketers think they knew what consumers’ “Category Ideals” looked like before, they need to take another hard look, because as of now consumers have an entirely new-view of what the is Ideal for them.

If marketers want their brands to succeed, knowing what’s Ideal from the consumer perspective is going to be a critical first step. More social networking isn’t going to cut it!

Survey Methodology

For the 2018 CLEI survey, 50,527 consumers, 16 to 65 years of age from the nine US Census Regions, self-selected the categories in which they are consumers and the brands for which they are customers. Fifty (50%) percent were interviewed by phone, thirty-five (35%) percent via face-to-face interviews (to identify and include cell phone-only households), and 15% online.

Brand Keys uses an independently-validated research methodology that fuses emotional and rational aspects of the categories, identifies four path-to-purchase behavioral drivers for the category-specific ‘Ideal,’ and identifies the values that form the components of each driver. These assessments are leading-indicators of consumer behavior, identifying such activities 12 to 18 months before they show up in traditional brand tracking or are articulated in focus groups.

The assessments measure how well brands meet expectations that consumers hold for each path-to-purchase driver. The research technique is a combination of psychological inquiry and statistical analyses, has a test/re-test reliability of 0.93, and produces results generalizable at the 95% confidence level. It has been successfully used in B2B and B2C categories in 35 countries.


Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

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