Emotional engagement is the dominant driver of purchase decisions and brand loyalty now that promotions and discounting have reached saturation levels, according to the 17th annual Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI).

The Index was conducted by New York-based Brand Keys and tracked brands in a variety of categories including beverages, quick-service, pizza, banks, beer, car insurance, cosmetics and more.

Along with discounting, empowerment through social networking has inflated consumer expectations, resulting in the need for brands to emotionally engage with their guests as a point of differentiation.

For example, for all 26 brands tracked in the beverages category, emotional engagement values related to "brand" and "community" showed the strongest influence on consumer decision-making and engagement. Brands in this category that had the highest levels of emotional brand engagement and, therefore, customer loyalty are Dunkin' Donuts (coffee, 90 percent), Dunkin' Donuts (packaged coffee, 95 percent), Coke (89 percent) and Diet Coke (90 percent).

Percentages indicate emotional engagement strength achieved versus a category-specific ideal, calculated to be 100 percent.

"Kudos to the companies that have sustained their brands, and continue to create meaningful differentiation and engagement," said Robert Passikoff, president, Brand Keys. "Consumers in those categories have, as they've done for nearly 20 years via our emotional and predictive metrics, indicated that their expectations regarding 'brand' have again increased. Brands able to better meet consumer expectations act as surrogates for added-value, engendering more loyalty than those based on the primacy of product and a coupon."

Passikoff adds that marketers are trying to understand the best approaches to emotional engagement, but often use "flavor-of-the-moment" strategies like measuring brain activity. These methods, he adds, are assumptive and don't identify what products and services need to do to remain successful.

"If marketers don't have a real handle on the emotional side of the purchase and engagement process, they end up with a 'placeholder,' one whose name people know but don't know for anything in particular and have absolutely no (brand) advantage in the marketplace. If that's where you are, you might as well spend your entire marketing budget on coupons, deals, and promotions," he said.

Emotional loyalty and engagement rankings for each category include:

Coffee

  1. Dunkin' Donuts
  2. Starbucks
  3. McDonald's
  4. Tim Hortons

Packaged Coffees

  1. Dunkin' Donuts
  2. Starbucks
  3. Allegro/Green Mountain (tie)
  4. Chock Full 'O Nuts/Eight O'clock/Folgers (tie)
  5. Nescafe/Yuban/Peets (tie)

Soft Drink (Diet)

  1. Diet Coke
  2. Diet Mountain Dew
  3. Diet Pepsi
  4. Diet Dr. Pepper
  5. Diet 7-Up

Soft Drink (Regular)

  1. Coke
  2. Mountain Dew
  3. 7-Up
  4. Pepsi/Sprite (tie)

Pizza

  1. Domino's
  2. Pizza Hut
  3. Papa John's
  4. Little Caesars
  5. Noble Roman's

Quick-service Restaurants

  1. Subway
  2. Burger King
  3. McDonald's
  4. KFC
  5. Wendy's/Taco Bell (tie)

Read more about trends and statistics.

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