Emotional engagement, a leading-indicator of consumer behavior, sales and corporate profitability, is now more difficult for brands to achieve as the key drivers of brand engagement have shifted dramatically toward emotional values according to the majority of the 72 categories surveyed in Brand Keys’ 2016 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI) – the 21st annual survey conducted by Brand Keys, the New York-based brand engagement and customer loyalty research consultancy.
“The consumer engagement process today is more dependent on emotional benefits and values of products than ever,” said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys. As rational attributes have become price-of-entry givens for today’s consumers, emotional values have become more problematic for brands.
“The difficult part is not brand outreach or messaging but how to accurately determine which emotional values a brand should leverage to emotionally engage consumers since they describe how consumers view the category, compare brands and howtheywillengagewithabrand, buy, remainloyalandprofitable. Imagery items and emotional engagement values are not one and the same,” said Passikoff.
Of the 72 categories included in Brand Keys’ 2016 assessments, the 10 with the highest expectations for emotional category values (in parentheses below) – and the brands consumers assessed as best meeting those values – included:
1. Athletic footwear: New Balance/Nike (Personal innovation)
2. Automotive: Hyundai/Ford (My life is always connected)
3. Breakfast bars: Kind/Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain (My tasty lifestyle)
4. Fast-casual restaurants: Panera/Shake Shack (Customization and well-being)
5. Instant messages: WhatsApp (Making my impact)
6. Online retailers: Amazon (Immediate gratification)
7. Online video: Netflix (Always amused, never bored)
8. Smartphones: Apple (I can do anything!)
9. Social networking: Facebook (Personal connectivity and influence)
10. Whiskey: Jack Daniels (My brand is me)
View the complete listing of the 72 categories and the brands which best emotionally engage consumers to learn more.
First-time engagement and loyalty winners
Brands rated Number 1 in their respective categories for the first time included: Lyft, Panera and Shake Shack, Dropbox, ChapStick, Svedka, Kind Breakfast Bars, Omni Hotels, REI and Haagen-Dazs. “As these assessments are based on a brand’s ability to meet customers’ expectations better for key values that drive customer engagement,” said Passikoff, “We’re not surprised to see that brands that do are category leaders and usually more profitable than the competition.”
“If a marketer can increase a brand’s engagement level – particularly the emotional values – they’ll always see positive consumer behavior in the marketplace. Always,” said Passikoff. “Axiomatically, brands that can do that always earn greater market share and are always more profitable than the competition. To succeed, marketers need to accurately answer these questions, ‘What drives my category, what are the emotional engagement values I need to focus on? How can my brand exceed consumer expectations for those emotional values?’ To their detriment, most brands can’t.”
Six new categories
The addition of six new categories – deodorants, file hosting, ice cream, lip balm, ticketing services, whiskey and the return of bottled water and tequila, as well as brand-expansion in several categories, added 83 new brands to the 2016 CLEI survey.
“We’ve seen high consumer interest and strong brand growth in the new categories,” said Passikoff. “And, the increased number of brands appearing in consumers’ consideration sets – 10 new brands alone in the Fast Casual and Quick Serve categories, for example, confirms the category volatility brands that aren’t emotionally engaging consumers face.”
The CLEI brand lists aren’t pre-determined. Consumers tell Brand Keys researchers which brands they actually use; brands must be mentioned enough times to provide a statistically generalizable sample. When consumers mention new brands at a significant level, it’s an indicator that current options do not meet their needs. And when that happens, consumers look to other brands to do that for them. On the emotional and rational sides of the purchase equation, today it’s the emotional side of that equation brands need to concentrate on,” noted Passikoff. “Today the rational stuff is easy. Profitability has become far more difficult.”
For the 2016 survey, 42,792 consumers, 18 to 65 years of age from the nine U.S. Census Regions, self-selected the categories in which they are consumers and the brands for which they are top-20 percent customers. Seventy percent were interviewed by phone, 25 percent via face-to-face interviews (to identify and include cellphone-only households), and 5 percent online.
The research technique combines psychological inquiry and statistical analyses, has a test/re-test reliability of 0.93 and provides results generalizable at the 95 percent confidence level. It has been successfully used in B2B and B2C categories in 35 countries.
The output identifies the four behavioral drivers for the category-specific ideal, and identifies the emotional and rational values (and their percent-contribution to engagement) that form the components of each driver. Drivers – and their component values – are category-specific since consumers don’t buy smartphones the same way they buy cosmetics or pizza. The engagement and loyalty assessments measure how well brands meet expectations that consumers hold for each driver that makes up the category-specific ideal.