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The ‘shocking’ shift in brand loyalty drivers, per new Brand Keys report


By Webb Wright, NY Reporter

January 9, 2023 | 7 min read

Brand Keys' latest Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, which assessed nearly 1,000 brands, highlights the primacy of emotion-based purchases in the post-pandemic marketplace.


The factors that determine brand loyalty seem to have recently undergone some seismic changes. / Adobe Stock

The nature of brand loyalty has changed dramatically over the past year, according to the 2023 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI) from research consultancy Brand Keys.

The new CLEI, published today, found the factors that drive brand loyalty – the qualities, both concrete and subliminal, which keep customers coming back to the same product and/or service time and again – have shifted across a stunning 91% of the 110 brand categories that were measured.

“It’s just absolutely shocking,” Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, says of the new report. “91% is enormous.”

Using what was described in a statement as “a combination of psychological and higher-order statistical analysis,” the authors of the report interviewed 113,550 US customers, ages 16 to 65. A total of 987 brands, chosen by the customer respondents, were also assessed.

The power of emotion – and of expectations

The transformation, Passikoff argues, can fundamentally be traced back to a deeper pattern in recent customer behavior which has trended away from what he describes as “rational values” and towards more emotional, even subconscious motivations.

“The decision process is mostly emotional,” he says. “After the pandemic, and with the shifts in the economy and the political landscape, the normalized view from a consumer perspective of how people are judging loyalty and being loyal is that they are emotionally looking at values and determining: ‘How well does this brand meet my expectations?’”

And at the end of the day, Passikoff argues, those customer expectations are key to making or breaking brand loyalty. “The issue is: Are you meeting my expectations better than the next [brand]? Because if you are, I’m behaving positively towards you and you’re going to make money. And if you’re not, I’m gone.”

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He claims, furthermore, that the trend towards a predominantly emotion-based brand loyalty paradigm can often make it difficult for people to articulate why they feel satisfied (or ’dont feel satisfied) with a particular product or service, which can in turn make it a challenge for brands to understand the factors that are driving (or eroding) loyalty from their customers.

What are the brand values that actually determine the degree of loyalty from customers? According to Passikoff, these vary between categories. One of the common themes tying each of the brand loyalty leaders from the 2023 CLEI together is that they “are doing a better job meeting certain expectations regarding the essence of the category itself.” He describes “value,” furthermore, as any factor that supports an individual’s sense of identity – any effort from a brand, in other words, that “is supporting me and supporting who I believe I am.”

New and returning brand loyalty leaders

The 2023 CLEI – the 26th annual edition published by Brand Keys – identified a slew of brands that have recently emerged as leaders in terms of customer loyalty. These include:

  • Corona

  • Disney+

  • Enterprise Rent-A-Car

  • Aquafina

  • Traders Joe’s


  • Oscar Meyer

  • Epsom

  • Levi Strauss

  • H&R Block

  • Lego

  • Dannon

  • Don Julio Tequila

  • Drury Hotels

There were also many brands, previously identified as customer loyalty leaders, that have once again emerged at or near the top of the list in their respective categories. Those brands include:

  • McDonald’s

  • Uber

  • The NFL

  • Chase

  • L’Oréal

  • Apple

  • Chipotle

  • Dick’s Sporting Goods

  • CVS

  • Samsung

  • Colgate

Perhaps most significantly, the new Brand Keys report listed the following “hero” brands, honored with a “perennial loyalty” classification, each of which has been listed as category leaders for an impressive number of consecutive years:

  • Discover Card (26 years)

  • Google (23 years)

  • Domino’s (19 years)

  • Dunkin’ (17 years)

  • Konica Minolta (16 years)

  • Hyundai (14 years)

  • AT&T Wireless (14 years)

  • (12 years)

  • Home Depot (11 years)

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