This past January, Brand Keys released a list of brands that were most emotionally engaging to consumers, meaning brands consumers adjudged best at meeting their very high expectations. Not just generally, but specifically as they pertained to their Category Ideals. Showing up in that list meant down the road, say over the next 12 to 18 months, those brands were going to be very profitable. Very, very profitable, absolutely, positively.
Why am I so sure of that? Well, I’ve been a brand-guy for a long time, but mainly because 88,126 customers told me. Not me personally, of course. But via our Customer Loyalty Engagement Index. That’s our annual survey where we measure what drives positive customer category behavior, what consumers really expect, and how well a brand is seen – or, more accurately, felt – to meet consumer expectations. If you are able to document consumer desire and brand delivery, knowing that tells you an immense amount about how well a brand is going to do down the road because a brand’s ability to meet expectations is always a leading-indicator of loyalty, a leading-indicator of positive consumer behavior toward a brand, a leading-indicator of sales and profitability.
This year the top of the list included Dunkin, Hyundai, Konica Minolta, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, AT&T, Amazon, McDonald’s, and Discover. Unfortunately, as is the nature of lists, there’s a top and a bottom.
Brands at the bottom of the list – let’s not call them “losers” let’s just say, “less emotionally engaging” – are usually less profitable than those at the top of the list, have smaller shares of market, and have less-loyal customers. Being at the bottom of the list doesn’t mean you won’t have heard of them. The all have awareness of one degree or another. In all likelihood, you have heard of them. You just don’t buy them! And, as this is a national survey of national brands, if it turns out you’ve never heard of them, well. . . that says a lot too. And even if the brand wasn’t top-of-mind for you, they all do have distribution and market presence. But today, just being there not enough.
The results of a real emotional engagement-loyalty analysis are generalizable at the 95% confidence level. They correlate with sales at the 0.80 level, which is very high. So, yeah, leading indicators of brand success. The less engaging list is, I think, the kind where when you read it, you’ll probably nod your head while a small voice in your head whispers, “Well, sure, I can see that,” or “Yeah, they missed something there,” or “They couldda been a contender if they just couldda gotten more sales.” That’ll be both the rational and emotional brand and market effects of the list talking to you.
The brands listed below ended up at the bottom of their respective categories because they weren’t able to meet those very high emotional expectations consumers bring with them to the marketplace. Real results of being on this particular list can’t be camouflaged with entertaining ads. Those effects can’t be couponed away! Ultimately, brands get exposed in the marketplace. And on profit-loss statements and in annual reports. They first show up in how consumers see, and more importantly, how they feel the brands are meeting their expectations because the fundamental bottom line is people don’t buy facts; they buy feelings, and the rational is always subordinate to the emotional.
Anyway, this year the 13 most-unengaging and, apparently, disengaged brands included:
- Busch beer
- Google Duo
- Google Pixel
- Little Caesar’s
- Ruby Tuesday’s
- Sierra Mist
- Spirit Airlines
- US Cellular
For some historical perspective, 13 previous bottom-of-the-listers brands included:
- Blockbuster On Demand
- Brooks Brothers
- JC Penney
- Payless Shoes
- Pier 1 Imports
- Radio Shack
- Sports Authority
- Victoria’s Secret
If you discern a pattern between that list and those brands’ ultimate fates, I’m going to assume the penny has dropped for you. Or in the instance of the actual brands on the list, 1,000,000,000,000 pennies. Because brand antiquity (and accountants) prove that brands that are better able to deliver against consumers’ real desires, i.e., expectations, always see better consumer behavior and, axiomatically, better sales and profits. Always.
But, alas, the reverse is equally true. Brands who can’t meet expectations, lose badly. Nobody on a “Least Engaging List” makes the kind of money or profits shareholders expect. Neither do they create the kind of emotional engagement customers truly envisage. What else would – or should – you as a marketer or brand manager expect? Which is why losers make promises they break and winners make commitments they keep. Because it all comes down to engagement and expectations. And it almost always turns out the losers (excuse me, the less emotionally engaged), don’t really understand what promises they need to fulfill or the expectations they need to address.
Robert Passikoff is founder and CEO of Brand Keys. He has received several awards for market research innovation including the prestigious Gold Ogilvy Award and is the author of 3 marketing and branding books including the best-seller, Predicting Market Success. Robert is also a frequent contributor to TheCustomer.