16th Annual 2012 Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders Identifies New Categories, Brands, Consumer Engagement Levels

Apple, Amazon, Samsung, YouTube, and Twitter lead the 2012 Top 100 Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders List, the 16th annual survey conducted by Brand Keys, the New York-based brand and customer loyalty and engagement research consultancy.

“In 16 years aggregating brand loyalty leaders, this is the first time we’ve seen such a seismic shift in loyalty leadership in terms of new categories and brands making their appearance in the top-100,” said Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president. “Brand loyalty has always been primarily driven by emotional engagement, and the rankings this year make it crystal clear that connection is everything.”

With 598 brands in 83 categories for consumers to rate, there’s strong competition for the top 100 spots. “This year certain categories rose to the top because of the high levels of engagement that consumers show, and what they deliver versus consumers’ expectations,” said Passikoff.

“The good news is that brand loyalty is understandable. The better news is, it can be quantified and predicted,” said Passikoff. “And, in these economic times, knowing what’s coming down the road gives a brand an extraordinarily powerful advantage.”

Twenty-One New Brands – Most Facilitate Social Out-Reach

“Twenty-one new brands appear on the 2012 list,” noted Passikoff. “Most new arrivals facilitate social outreach: tablets, smartphones, and social networks,” with Apple and Amazon taking the top two spots.

The top-10 Brand Keys loyalty leaders rank:

1. Apple: tablets
2. Amazon: tablets
3. Apple: smartphone
4. Amazon: on-line retail
5. Apple: computer
6. Samsung: tablet
7. Call of Duty: major league gaming
8. Samsung: cellphone
9. Halo: major league gaming
10. Twitter: social networks

Loyalty Leaders Top-100 Winners and Losers

The brands that showed the greatest loyalty gains on the list this year were:

Sephora (+60 places)
Starbucks (+55)
Ford (+47)
Samsung smartphones (+30)
Costco (+24)

Brands that saw the greatest erosion of loyalty and engagement included:

Netflix (-69 places)
Bing (-60)
Blackberry (-40)
B.J.’s Price Club (-31)
Flickr (-29)

“Some brands suffered losses because of the economy as consumers shifted to less expensive brands that still held some degree of meaning,” said Passikoff. Some shifts are due to the creation and adoption of new categories that better meet – or even exceed – customer expectations. But brands that understand that real emotional connections can serve as a surrogate for added-value will always top the list – no matter the state of the economy.”

Outreach Is Cellular and Social

Twenty-three percent (23%) of the top-100 brands account for consumer outreach and engagement via cellular and social networks, and the phones, smartphones, computers, and tablets needed for the “instant-gratification access consumer expectations cry out for,” said Passikoff.

Personal Care Brands Get Trimmed

Last year beauty and personal care brands accounted for nearly a third of the top-100 but in 2012 represent only 18% of the top-100 brands. “The emotional engagement that women share with their favorite beauty brands can be very powerful, but again, consumers are looking harder for a reason to believe and a reason to bond – and buy – one brand versus myriad ‘me-too’ products on store shelves,” said Passikoff.

Retailers Ring Up Fewer Ratings

Retail brands were down nearly a third – looking at bricks and clicks providers – on this year’s list. “We believe that the inability for retailers to provide meaningful differentiation – beyond low-lower-lowest pricing strategies – has seriously eroded loyalty levels in the retail category,” said Passikoff.

Amazon.com is still high on the list (#4), but emotional bonds have weakened across the retail category. Zappos (#6 last year) moved down the list to #19 this year; the next ranked retailer is Target, at #36.

Drinking and Driving

Five (5) automotive brands made the top-100 on the Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders List, including: Hyundai (#25), Ford (#39), Toyota (#46), General Motors (#68), and KIA (#99). This is the first time GM and Kia have made the top-100 rankings.

Alcoholic beverages appeared nearly 2:1 versus auto brands, with nine vodka and tequila brands making the list, slightly down from last year. Grey Goose maintained its loyalty lead in the #13 spot, up two spots, followed by Ketel One (#24) and Stolichnaya (#34). Don Julio led the tequilas, ranked #42.


The Loyalty Leaders analysis was conducted in September 2012 and includes assessments from 49,221 consumers, 18 to 65 years of age, drawn from the nine US Census Regions, self-selected the categories in which they are consumers, and the brands for which they are customers. Seventy-five percent (75%) were interviewed by phone, 20% via face-to-face interviews (to account for today’s of the population who are cell phone-only consumers,) and the remaining consumers assessed categories and brands on-line. Loyalty Leader assessments examine 83 categories and 598 brands.

Apple Takes Three of Five Top Spots on Brand Keys’ 20012 Customer Loyalty Ranking

Apple appears in three of the first five spots – tablets, smartphones, and computers – in Brand Keys 2012 Loyalty Leaders top-100 brands. How do they do it in what’s becoming ever more complex and demanding categories?

“The answer: Apple creates high degrees of loyalty and engagement by better meeting or exceeding expectations consumers hold for category loyalty drivers where the Apple brand competes,” says Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys president and designer of the loyalty research methodology.

“We know from our national research that measuring real loyalty is a category-specific business,” added Passikoff. “In looking at 83 product/service categories, surveying over 49,000 consumers, about 598 brands, it’s clear that consumers do not engage and buy in one category the same way they do in another. Can we then agree nobody buys a tablet the same way they buy toothpaste, a smartphone the way they buy spaghetti sauce?”

Brand Keys validated assessments is a methodology that fuses emotional and rational category attributes with product benefits and values, and identifies the purchase drivers and expectations for the ideal product in the category where the brand competes. “Then we measure brands in the category against those drivers. Brands that meet, or exceed, expectations that consumers hold for those drivers see higher levels of loyalty than those that don’t. Always. And loyalty correlates extremely highly with positive consumer behavior toward the brand and – axiomatically – sales and profits,” added Passikoff.

Loyalty Drives Sales, Stock Price, Market Cap –

If you doubt that fact, check out Apple’s stock price and capitalization numbers. Identifying the real drivers of loyalty is an interesting exercise for marketers because once you know what they are it becomes difficult not to understand how one brand ends up more loyal customers (and sales) than another.

The Drivers of Apple Loyalty

Take what drives loyalty in the Tablet category:
1. Brand Value (Is this an innovative brand I’m proud to be seen with?).
2. Advanced Design (Does this brand set the bar for the category and does it provide intuitive, organic connections for me?).
3. Features (Does it have everything I want and does it provide me with more than I thought was possible?).
4. Hardware/Software (Does the brand support more apps and is it most advanced system available?).

OK, which tablet brand can answer those questions best? Apple met customer expectations for the category at a rating of 96%. If you said “Amazon,” you’re close. They were #2, at 92%.

What are the drivers of loyalty in the smartphone category? Availability of Apps is first-most important, followed by Product Design, Brand Value, and Connectivity & Ease of Use. Again, ask yourself which brand best meets these consumer requirements in an extraordinarily demanding category? You can quibble about a couple of brands, but Apple is #1 at 87%. For sure Blackberry isn’t measuring up for those category drivers. This year it’s #60 meeting customer expectations by only 75%.

Finally, what drives loyalty in the computer category? In order of import to consumers:

1. Innovative Design,
2. Technological Innovation,
3. Brand Reputation & Trouble-Free Performance, and
4. Support, Warranty & Pricing.

Do the exercise again. If you came up with any name other than Apple (with a customer expectation rating of 91%), check out the comparable sales numbers of the other brand.

“Loyalty metrics are predictive of what consumers are going to want to purchase 12 to 18 months down the road. And, while rankings like this list are interesting, loyalty strength is a leading- indicator of profitability. And that’s something that ranks highly on every marketer’s list,” noted Passikoff.