Political polarization and more fervent social movements like #grabyourwallet, #MeToo, and #TimesUp have changed the face of brand engagement and consumer loyalty, according to the 23rd annual Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI), conducted by brand engagement and customer loyalty research consultancy Brand Keys.
“This is the first time since the Index was initiated nearly 25 years ago where basic tenets of consumer loyalty and engagement have been turned upside-down,” said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, in a news release.
Biggest shifts in category dynamics and brand leadership
This year, the Brand Keys CLEI examined 84 categories and 761 brands—from Automotive and OTC Allergy Meds to Computers, Fast-Casual Dining, Tax Preparation and Online Investing, Retail (of all types), Smartphones, Cable and Broadcast News, and Cosmetics.
How consumers view a category and how they will compare brands competing in that category changed dramatically in 90 percent of Tech categories. That shift resulted in a brand engagement and loyalty transformation and a shift in brand leadership of 50 percent.
“We’ve just never encountered these kinds of value-adjustments before,” said Passikoff. “But then, we haven’t seen this kind of political polarization or social turmoil at the same time since we began taking these assessments either.”
What drives category change? Political tribalism or social activism?
The Retail categories reacting most to values associated with political tribalism that included Personal Responsibility, Moral Order, Family Values, Fiscal Conservatism, and Established Social Structures were:
- App-based ride share
- File hosting
The sectors reacting most to values associated with social activism that included Empathy, Equality, Empowerment, Individualism, and Pride were:
- Instant messaging
- Social networking
- Wireless carriers
Entirely new view of what consumers see as ideal
’Brand engagement’ is still best defined by how well a brand can meet the expectations consumers hold for the values that drive purchases behavior in a given category,” added Passikoff. “But category political polarization and social activism have shaken those values to their core. If marketers think they knew what consumers’ ‘Category Ideals’ looked like before, they need to take another hard look, because as of now consumers have an entirely new-view of what is the Ideal for them.”
The future of successful branding (politically and socially)
Decision-making has become more emotionally-driven over the past decade,” said Passikoff. “But the addition of tribal political and activist values has transformed the brand space into something marketers haven’t faced before. ‘Business as usual’ won’t cut it in this brandscape.”
“We expect to see value and expectation shifts,” said Passikoff, “But we’ve never measured anything on this scale before! Fortunately, the integrated psychological nature of our approach allows us to identify new and particularly resonant emotional values and measure how they impact a category. This was the year that political tribalism and social activism rose to the top and are going to change how successful branding is done in the future.”
Brand engagement today—and tomorrow
“The concept of brand engagement is pretty straightforward,” said Passikoff. “Consumers have an Ideal for every product and service; it’s the yardstick they use to measure brands. Defining your category’s Ideal is where it gets tricky, as the process is not only more emotionally-based than rational, but is now confounded by newer and nuanced political and social values. And while our most recent Presidential election and its aftermath have raised levels of political debate, it has also raised more contentious issues, more social activism, and has created far more value-infused and complicated paths-to-purchase for consumers.
“The result? Massive changes in what consumers really want and equally massive gaps between what they want and what brands are seen to be capable of delivering,” noted Passikoff. “Happily, real engagement metrics can help identify and close that gap and keep marketers on the right path to profitability.”
For the 2018 CLEI survey, 50,527 consumers, 16 to 65 years of age from the nine US Census Regions, self-selected the categories in which they are consumers and the brands for which they are customers. Fifty (50%) percent were interviewed by phone, thirty-five (35%) percent via face-to-face interviews (to identify and include cell phone-only households), and 15% online.