NEW YORK, NY JANUARY 22, 2018 – 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 Brand Keys 23rd annual Customer Loyalty Engagement Index® (CLEI), conducted by the New York-based brand engagement and customer loyalty research consultancy (brandkeys.com). “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.

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 100% of the Restaurant categories. All of the 2017 brands maintained their engagement and loyalty leadership positions.

“We’ve just never encountered those kinds of value-adjustments before,” noted 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?

All the restaurant sectors reacted to values associated with Social Activism that included Empathy, Equality, Empowerment, Individualism, and Pride.

1. Out-of-Home Coffee
2. Casual/Fas Casual Food
3. Pizza
4. Quick-Serve Foods

Values like Personal Responsibility, Moral Order, Family Values, Fiscal Conservatism, and Established Social Structures were those associated with Political Tribalism.

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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,” noted 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,” said Passikoff.

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.”

A complete list of the CLEI’s 84 categories can be found at:

Customer Loyalty Engagement Index

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.

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“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.

Brand Keys uses an independently validated research methodology that fuses emotional and rational aspects of the categories, identifies four path-to-purchase behavioral drivers for the category-specific ‘Ideal,’ and identifies the values that form the components of each driver. These assessments are leading-indicators of consumer behavior, identifying such activities 12 to 18 months before they show up in traditional brand tracking or are articulated in focus groups.

The assessments measure how well brands meet expectations that consumers hold for each path-to-purchase driver. The research technique is a combination of psychological inquiry and statistical analyses, has a test/re-test reliability of 0.93, and produces results generalizable at the 95% confidence level. It has been successfully used in B2B and B2C categories in 35 countries.

Contact: Visibility
Len Stein
914 527.3708

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