In an unstable year fraught with health and financial fragility, consumers chose to recognize brands with established loyalty bona fides rather than acknowledge new brands, according to the 2021 Loyalty Leaders List, an annual report from customer loyalty and engagement research firm Brand Keys. This year’s survey, a cross-category examination of brand loyalty, included 1,260 brands in 112 categories.
“The 2021 loyalty rankings describe a desperate desire by consumers for a return to normalcy. Over the past year loyalty has experienced a COVID-induced medical and marketplace trial-by-fire, the toughest test of customer loyalty we’ve measured in nearly 40 years conducting loyalty research,” said Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president, in a news release.
Brands as surrogates for solace
Brands can act as surrogates for emotional values absent from consumers lives. But brands with high levels of customer loyalty provide solace too, and are six times more likely to fulfill that role in uncertain circumstances, including lockdowns, product shortages, and supply chain SNAFUs. This year, brands like Home Depot, PayPal, Clorox, Hulu, and Purell managed to maintain loyalty leads established during the initial year of the pandemic.
2021 Top 20 Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders:
New, returning, and departing loyalty leaders
“The COVID and economic crises hit certain categories harder than others,” noted Passikoff. “And while these loyalty assessments reflect true brand allegiance, it’s fair to note there were categories consumers either did not have access to or immediate need of. Additionally, there are always new brands which appear in the top 100—albeit significantly fewer this year.”.
Brands new to the Loyalty Leaders List this year include: TikTok (#21), Apple TV (#26), Levi Strauss (#46), Red Bull (#61), Walmart.com (#64), Crest (#65), Svedka (#86) and Lululemon (#90).
Brands returning to the list this year are truly representative of consumers’ desires for a return to marketplace and lifestyle regularity “Brands returning to the loyalty list are reflective of a partial marketplace return-to-normalcy,” said Passikoff, and included: McDonald’s (#72), Shake Shack (#80), Mastercard (#81), Call of Duty (#82), Konica-Minolta (#93), and iTunes (#95).
Brands out of the Top 100 this year included: Cosmetic brands (Lancôme, Estee Lauder, and Clinique), Vodka brands (Grey Goose and Ketel One), Insurance brands (Progressive and Farmers), as well as LG, Ben & Jerry’s, and Sam Adams. “Individual brand loyalty diagnostics can clarify reasons these brands didn’t make the cut in 2021,” said Passikoff.
2021’s biggest loyalty winners and losers
Loyalty metrics are always predictive of future consumer behavior. “It’s axiomatic. The stronger the loyalty, the better the behavior shown toward a brand. The better behavior represented by sales, the stronger a brand’s bottom line,” added Passikoff.
Brands with the largest loyalty-list gains this year included: Pinterest (+22), Chobani (+21), Lyft and Old Navy (+17), GEICO, Ford, and Dick’s Sporting Goods (+15), Purell (+14), Chase (+12) and Square (+10).
Brands which saw the greatest losses in customer loyalty rank included: Zara (-27), Costco (-23), USAA and Budweiser (-19), T-Mobile and State Farm (-18), Haagen-Dazs (-16), New Balance and Sam’s Club (-14) and Zappos (-9).
Loyalty is emotional. So are consumers. Brand should do this:
“Loyalty is always about connection and expectations,” said Passikoff. Brands that connect emotionally with consumers, and can meet consumers’ mostly-emotional expectations, always do better during crises—six times better. The 2021 Loyalty Leaders List proves brands with high levels of customer loyalty can emerge from watershed moments stronger than before.
“Brands that handle loyalty correctly always do better than their competition,” declared Passikoff. “And brands that make loyalty and emotional engagement a priority, show up on our Loyalty Leaders List but more importantly, they show up on consumers’ shopping lists.”
Unlike economic-use models that rely on historical data and profitability conjecture, Brand Keys’ rankings are 100 percent consumer-driven, measuring the emotional and rational aspects of each consumer’s decision process in the moment. “The good news is real brand loyalty paradigm is easily understood. The better news is it can be quantified, predicted, and integrated into any brand’s research efforts,” said Passikoff. “The best news is that loyalty correlates very highly with customer behavior and sales.”
Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders analysis was conducted during August and September 2021. It includes 53,222 assessments (M/F, 16 to 65 YOA, recruited from 9 US Census Regions). Respondents self-selected categories in which they are consumers and then assessed brands for which they were customers. The 2021 survey assessed 1,260 brands in 112 categories.