Sunday, November 22, 2015

10 Key Trends for 2016

As researchers who have eyes only for predictive metrics, we appreciate having a real foundation of insights to help identify trends to help our clients beat the competition.

So, for the past 31 years, Brand Keys has conducted a year-end examination of our validated loyalty and emotional engagement metrics, collected from over 100,000 consumers who participated in predictive surveys we conduct each year. That means we examine more than 150 B2B and B2C categories and nearly 1,000 brands. 

This provides Brand Keys with a correlated-to-behavior view of changes in category drivers, path-to-purchase values, consumer expectations, arrival, departure, and formation of category and customer values, as well as the percent-contribution these elements make to consumer engagement and brand profitability. Examined in aggregate, these assessments provide marketers with a leading-indicator trajectory of future trends marketers will have to address in the next 18 to 24 months.

For marketers and brand managers who want to stay ahead of that trajectory, this year the analysis identified ten critical trends that will become leading market realities in 2016. A few of the trends are current market values morphing into new market structures. Some are newly identified tenets. All are actionable opportunities for brands, and have been identified as follows:

1. We only have emojis for you
The eyes have it and increased consumer visual literacy will concurrently and dramatically increase the use and utility of emoticons. Using emoticons will help to create brand differentiation, make brands appear user-friendlier, and increase engagement, particularly in social media outreach.

2. New rules of engagement
Awareness will be a given. Marketers will link “engagement” to how well brands are perceived versus their category’s Ideal, rather than relying on measures of entertainment like “likes,” tweets, or share counts.

3. A brand is your best brand asset
 Brands will need to differentiate and stand for something meaningful, emotional, and important in the mind of the consumer. Otherwise – whether known or not – marketers will find themselves managing well-known commodities.

4. Watch smart wearables move beyond watches
Wearable device shipments have already increased 200% from last year and smart wearables will move from accessories focused on notifications to more advanced capabilities creating real opportunities for brands.

5. Shopping at the sMall
A new twist on customization and personalization will become the new tradition. Consumers will seek out ready-made from brands able to create the look and feel of small-business, handmade, uniquely crafted products, services, and experiences.

6. Emotional brand IQs will rise
As consumer decision-making becomes more emotionally-based, successful brands will identify and utilize emotional values as foundations for meaningful positioning, differentiation, and authentic storytelling.

7. Mind the expectation gap
The ability for brands to accurately measure real, unarticulated, and constantly expanding consumer expectations will provide significant advantages to engage, delight, and profit for brands that can.

8. Caution: speed trap ahead
As more-and-more agile, hot-wired-to-mobile-device, culture-of-now consumers move faster and faster á la social marketing and outreach, brands will need to get faster too. After reaching out , 40% of consumers expect a brand response across a variety of social media platforms within an hour.

9. Naked truth vs. well-dressed lies
Storytelling is fine, but the stories brands tell must reflect real brand values, category realities and, most importantly, the truth. Consumers have signaled increased preferences for traditional, value-driven brands, and have become more wary of brands that betray their trust. Just ask Volkswagen.

10. On-demand escapism
Consumers will demand to be more inspired, more entertained, and more emotionally engaged by brands. Social media’s democratization of content creation will require that brands generate more immersive entertainment and increased virtual and augmented realities allow consumers to both participate – and shape – their own brand experiences.

It’s said that a new year provides marketers and brands a chance for new resolutions and new beginnings. Also the chance to beat the hell out of the competition! But if you want to do something new, you have to stop doing something old. These 10 trends provide brands with an opportunity to break habits, embrace new methods of brand engagement, and introduce new business models, new technologies, and new and profitable opportunities. If we can help you put these trends to work for you, feel free to give us a call.

In the meantime we wish you all an engaging and profitable 2016.

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day

A Soldier, a Sailor, an Airman, a Coast Guardsman, and a Marine found themselves at the Pearly Gates of Heaven. While they were waiting to be admitted they got into an argument about which branch of the service was the best.

When they got to Saint Peter they decided only he could be the ultimate source of truth and honesty, so the five servicemen asked him, “Saint Peter, which branch of the United States Armed Forces is the best?”

Saint Peter replied, “I can’t answer that. However, I will ask God what He thinks the next time I see Him. Meanwhile, thank you for your service on Earth, and welcome to Heaven.”

Sometime later the five servicemen ran into Saint Peter again and reminded him of the question they had asked when first entering Heaven, and if he was ever able to ask God for the answer to their question?

Suddenly, a sparkling white dove landed on Saint Peter’s shoulder. In the dove’s beak was a glistening golden note. Saint Peter opened the note. Trumpets blared, golden light beamed, harps played crescendos, and the Heavenly choir sang. Saint Peter read the note aloud to the five servicemen:

TO: All Former Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines
SUBJECT: Which Military Service Is the Best

1. All branches of the United States Armed Forces are honorable and noble.
2. Each serves America well and with distinction in both war and peace.
3. Each branch of the armed services is comprised of patriots.
4. Serving in the United States military represents a great honor warranting special respect, tribute, and dedication from your fellow man.
5. Always be proud of that and honor all our veterans and their love of country.

Warm Regards,

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, a celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. We salute them all. But today belongs to the United States Marines, on the 240th birthday of the Corps.

Marine Corps birthday celebrations have both a history and a tradition, with a cake-cutting ceremony that would put your usual event marketers to shame. A commanding officer cuts the cake with a Mameluke, a scimitar-like sword. The first piece goes to the oldest Marine present, then to the youngest. During the annual birthday celebration, Order No. 47 is read, which says in part, “it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.”

This birthday presentation started November 1, 1921 by order of the 13th Commandant, Gen. John A. LeJeune, as a reminder of the service of the Corps and its inception. It’s been celebrated by Marines this way for 94 years and is a real tradition and part of its “long and illustrious history.” It’s a truly emotional event where loyalty and continuity reinforces the Marine Corps brand.

Marines are proud of that history and our traditions. The Marine Corps tradition is part of the bedrock of this nation, and one of the constants that makes every American hopeful for the future. The Marine Corps’ voice is one of quiet power and reverence befitting an institution this country has looked to as its protector for more than two centuries. I didn’t write that last part, it’s a quote from the Marine Corps Brand Vision, which is pretty much a kind of back-to-the-future vision of who the Corps is.

The Marine Corps motto – “Semper Fidelis” (“Ever faithful” and John Philip Sousa’s official march of the Marines) – was adopted in 1883. It replaced three traditional but unofficial slogans; Fortitudine” (“with courage”), “Per Mare, Per Terram” (“By sea and by land,” which was appropriate since Marines were once known as “soldiers of the sea,”) and, “To the shores of Tripoli,” revised in 1848 to “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” From a branding perspective, four taglines isn’t a bad record for a brand that’s 240 years old, particularly when you consider that Coca Cola and McDonalds have each had about 30 tag lines in this century alone!

As history and tradition are a big part of the Marine Corps brand, many expressions that have become part of the American lexicon are related to the Marines. Words like “Leatherneck,” “Devil Dogs,” “Oorah,” “Fire Watch,” “Jarhead,” and “SITFU.” If you have to look that last one up, you’re definitely not a Marine! But the six words the Marines and the Marine brand, are best known for are, “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.”

A lot of credit goes to ad man J. Walter Thompson for that. Mr. Thompson enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1864 so you might say there was some history there too, because about 100 years later his company helped develop the Marine Corps into the elite brand it stands for today. It is, perhaps, the most-cited slogan of any of the U.S military forces and even appears on Madison Avenue’s Advertising Walk of Fame.

But, like all things Marine, it too has its roots in history. On March 20, 1779, Captain William Jones of the Continental Marines placed a recruiting ad in The Providence Gazette, which read in part "The Continental ship Providence, now lying at Boston, is bound on a short cruise, immediately; a few good men are wanted to make up her complement." If you’re looking for a celebrity endorsement regarding that Marine brand, it was George Washington who later commented, “It is infinitely better to have a few good men than many indifferent ones.”

Traditionally, Marines meet up on November 10th to share a birthday meal or drink with some celebrations a bit more expansive than others. Take, for example, chef and restaurateur John Besh, who served in Desert Storm in the 1st Marine Division. 

He and his fellow Marines found talking about real food more satisfying than eating their MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat, which are self-contained, individual food rations Marines use in combat areas where cooking facilities are not available. Older Marines will know them as K-RATS and I can assure you haute cuisine they are not!).

His experience – and an adaptation to civilian life of small-unit Marine tactics – ultimately led to a large chain of twelve restaurants. And a coveted James Beard Award, and four cookbooks. Oh, and his small division, fire team, take-the-hill Marine training led to his setting up soup kitchens in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina when they were needed most. The leadership that is borne in every Marine led to the creation of the John Besh Foundation, which protects and preserves the culinary heritage and indigenous foods of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region through culinary scholarships and micro loans. Oorah!

As a tribute and tradition to the institution and a thanks to those still serving today, John hosts an annual Marine Corps Birthday celebration at his restaurant, Lüke, in New Orleans. Last year nearly 1,700 celebrants showed up, further proof that Marines don’t fool around about how we celebrate things that are important to us! All Marines are welcome to eat and drink for free on the day the Corps was founded. Navy personnel are welcome too, because, as I am fond of pointing out the old joke, the Marines are a Department of the Navy. The Men’s Department!

So to the complement of those few good men, past and present, we say “Happy Birthday.”

And, as is our traditional sign off, “Semper Fi.”

(This article was originally published in Marketing Daily)

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Who Uses Search & Which Search Engine Do They Use?

With the holidays coming up there’s lots of chatter about how online and mobile price-checking and buying and comparing are making themselves felt in the retail arena. That’s as may well be, but in this year’s Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders List only one search engine showed up in the top-100 brands. In fact, only one other search engine showed up in the top-689 brands. Want to guess which brand was in the top-100? Don’t bother searching for that answer, it was Google. But you probably already guessed that.

There was a time when names like Magellan, Infoseek, Lycos, Ask Jeeves, HotBot, and Alta Vista would have sprung to mind. Some might have even shown up on our Loyalty Leaders List, but not any more. We’ve reached a point where technological innovation has outpaced most competitive marketing. Like virtually every other category, the ability to meet or exceed consumer expectations for what drives a category ends up determining the life – and death – of brands. Just as it has for search engines.

Category expectations are always set by the consumers who use a product or service, so we looked to see who’s using search engines. Well, on a typical day, 75-80% of adults use one. It’s a pretty even split between males and females, with men having a slightly higher usage rate than women. Younger people use search engines more than older folks, and there’s a high correlation between high degrees of usage and higher education and higher household income.

So which search engine is used most? Well if the Loyalty Leaders List rankings weren’t a hint, here’s some scary rankings of worldwide market share when it comes to search:
  1. Google         92.5%
  2. Yahoo            3.5%
  3. Bing               3.0%
  4. Baidu             1.5%

Those numbers haven’t scared off innovators, though. They’re out there trying to build new search engines that can exceed new expectations for the new consumer values that are always making themselves felt in categories. NowRelevant keeps search down to just the past 2 weeks and DuckDuckGo doesn’t track or personalize search.

And if you’re interested in what Facebook and LinkedIn are doing on the social side of things in the category, just paste this paragraph into the search box of your computer or mobile device! The search setting is always up to you.
(This piece first appeared as a "Thought Leaders" column in The Bulldog Reporter)

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Shades of Ebenezer Scrooge! REI To Close Stores on Black Friday.

Here’s an idea. Close up your store on Black Friday. Go on. Close it up. Flip that “OPEN” sign around. No customers allowed in. No, seriously, close up.

“Close Black Friday? The biggest shopping day of the year? Are you mad!?” I hear you cry. No really. Just close up. That's what REI, the outdoor gear and sporting goods retailer is doing this year – they are canceling Black Friday. Not open. Shut up. Gone fishing!

Actually, that last one is pretty much what REI is doing. They’re foregoing the crowds and craziness of the day and are trying to start a new shopping tradition. No door-buster sales or Black Friday promotions. No getting out of bed at 2AM. No huddling for warmth in line in the parking lot. Nope, REI is closing all of their 143 stores the day after Thanksgiving, encouraging consumers to spend some time not shopping in the great outdoors and just enjoying the great outdoors. REI built a dedicated #OptOutside website with resources on local hiking trails to help out those consumer who think a mall qualifies as “outside.”

For a while now Black Friday – which can start as early as Grey Thursday and run all the way through Cyber Monday – has become an increasingly competitive game of can-you-top-this? Earlier store openings, crowded parking lots, door-buster specials, and sales galore. But with all that, (and the fact that Black Friday really isn’t the biggest shopping day. That’s usually the Saturday before Christmas) the numbers of shoppers shopping and the amounts of money spent have been declining each year.

Now, while you might think that a store that sells outdoor gear and mostly-outdoor sporting goods suggesting consumers not shop but play is self-serving, you wouldn’t be too far from right. Sure, it’s certainly differentiating to take an anti-consumerism brand position (well, one day a year), but maybe it’s also just being expedient.

Our recent Brand Keys 2015 Holiday Shopping Survey – interviewing 15,750 consumer from all over the U.S.A. including parts in the great outdoors – discovered that when it came to starting to shop for the holidays, 84% of consumers actually indicated that they were intending to shop before Black Friday. You can find the full survey findings here.

For the breakdown of consumers’ planned shopping excursions looks like this:

Before September:               11%
September:                          10%   
October:                               22%   
(Before Black Friday):          41%
December:                           16%

The trend for holiday shopping starting earlier and earlier was something Brand Keys commented upon in 2010, and is conclusively proving itself out. Part of the raison d’être is purely rational; consumers have realized that low-lower-lowest prices are always to be found and usually well before Black Friday. Oh, and as this is the 21st century, you can always sit at home and order online anytime the mood strikes you, although in this instance REI won’t process any orders till Saturday, “Heavens to Murgatroyd!”  And even though we didn’t research it, we suspect that intrepid, hot-wired-to-their-mobile-device consumers can wait one more day!

Other parts of the not-in-any-rush-to-shop Black Friday trend are driven by emotional values: immediate gratification kicks in when you find the perfect gift no matter what time of year it is, and that comes with a BOGO added-value – the gift of reduced stress of having to deal with all other elements attendant to year-end holiday shopping. Ahhh, not dealing with crowds. Diminished exposure to seasonal music! No long lines! Being able to find this year’s ‘must-have’ gift before they sell out on November 14th.

Only 16% of consumers – 9% fewer than 2014, and 19% fewer than 2013 – indicated they were going to wait until Black Friday to start holiday shopping, although some consumers (4%) did indicate that they would make an effort to support local businesses on Small Business Saturday. Supporting your local retailer is a nice thing to do all year round.

But for those of you who feel Black Friday is an absolute mandate, a family tradition, and that cancelling it is a desecration of the holiday season, we have two words for you: Cyber Monday!

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Is Your Brand A Loyalty Leader?

This year’s 2015 Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders List – our 19th annual look at brand loyalty – found 85% of the top-20 companies represent digital technology and social networking brands or brands that facilitate digital technologies or social networking, although (whew!) consumers haven’t entirely abandoned traditional brands. But whether “digital” or “analog,” brand loyalty is still being driven by emotional engagement, and this year the top-20 Loyalty Leaders look like this:
  1. Netflix: video streaming
  2. Amazon: tablets
  3. Apple: smartphones
  4. Apple: tablets
  5. Facebook: social networking
  6. Google: search engines
  7. YouTube: social networking
  8. Amazon: online retail
  9. WhatsApp: instant messaging
  10. Amazon: video streaming
  11. Samsung: smartphones
  12. Zappos: online retail
  13. iTunes: video streaming
  14. Grey Goose: vodka
  15. Kindle: e-readers
  16. LinkedIn: social networking
  17. Dunkin’ Donuts: coffee
  18. PayPal: online payments
  19. Hyundai: automotive
  20. Twitter: social networking
Certain categories have risen to the top of the list because of the high levels of consumer engagement they’re able to generate. Combine that with development of the digital and mobile and social world and how it’s dramatically changed how consumers communicate and engage with each other and brands, and that’s resulted in equally dramatic shifts in the top-100 Loyalty Leaders List composition á la categories and brands.

Sure, some changes are due to the virtual disappearance of categories like Breakfast Cereal, Catalogs, and Digital Cameras, at least when it comes to survey incidence levels. But if you actually look at the actual marketplace, some of those shifts are, well, manifestly self-evident. Smartphones have replaced Digital Cameras. Online or mobile outreach now substitutes for last-century’s catalogs. Social Networking, Streaming Video, Tablets, and/or E-readers, nascent categories a decade ago, now account for the largest range of brands – 25% ­– on this year’s entire list. And yes, some shifts are due to the appearance of new brands or the inclusion of new categories. This year, 10 of the top-100 Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders are new brands from ne categories and include Uber (#21), Zubrowka vodka (#30), Under Armour (#41), Ralph Lauren (#43), Chevrolet (#50), Old Navy (#57), HBO GO (#78), Forever 21 (#88), Home Depot (#95), and Microsoft Surface (#98). And here’s an overview of some of the other, overall changes as regards loyalty leadership:

Alcoholic Beverage brands have decreased by 40%. Search is down to only one brand. (If you guessed “Google” you’d be right!) Number of brands representing all Retail, Hotels, and Out-of-Home Coffee have remained generally unchanged, but Fast-Casual Restaurants, which have had dramatic effects in their own industry causing real problems for traditional Fast-Food brands, are having dramatic effects in the top-100, showing up in greater numbers every year. Oh, and that doesn’t take into account 2 Pizza brands on the list again this year. How consumers love their pizza! Automotive and Financial Service brands have doubled while Online Retailers increased by a factor of six. Only 8% of this year’s list represents cosmetic brands, but traditional retail brands nearly doubled this year. We suspect the consumer shift to online and mobile shopping has forced traditional retailers to work a lot harder to provide customers something more engaging than low-lower-lowest pricing strategies, and that success is showing up on both our Loyalty Leaders List and on their bottom lines.

Look, building real brand loyalty isn’t easy. Nothing worth having ever is. But the good news is that it is understandable. The better news is it can be quantified and predicted. And the best news is that knowing what’s coming down the road at you from a category, competitive, and consumer engagement perspective can give a brand an extraordinarily powerful advantage when it comes to planning, strategy, and innovation. What brand doesn’t want to stick it to its nearest competitor!?

There’s always a lot of talk about ROI and how that’s hard too. But here’s something you can do about it. Loyalty and brand engagement are leading-indicators of positive customer behavior and, axiomatically if consumers behave better toward your brand, you ought to see increased sales and profitability. QED. We invite you to look at brand movement up and down the list over the past year and calculate for yourselves those shifts with real market activity. There ‘s probably an app for that on one of your smartphone or mobile devices, and you’ll be surprised how strong that correlation turns out to be! And as loyal customers are the best annuity a brand can invest in, we strongly recommend engagement as a metric you ought to have in your brand planning toolbox.

It’s what brand leaders do.


Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders analysis was conducted in September 2015 and includes assessments from 40,128 consumers, 18 to 65 years of age, from the nine US Census Regions, who self-selected the categories in which they are consumers and the brands for which they are customers. Seventy-five percent (75%) were interviewed by phone, 20% via face-to-face interviews (to account for cell phone-only consumers), and remaining consumers assessed categories and brands online. This year the 2015 Loyalty Leader assessments examined 68 categories and 753 brands. And unlike economic use models, which rely heavily on historical data and profitability conjecture, the Brand Keys Loyalty Model and rankings are 100% consumer-driven, and are highly predictive of brand and corporate profitability.

For the complete top-100 2015 Loyalty Leaders List, click here.

For more information regarding the Brand Keys 2105 Loyalty Leaders List, a brand’s position on the list, or general information about integrating predictive loyalty and engagement metrics into your marketing efforts, or the upcoming January 2016 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, please contact Leigh Benatar at or 212-532-6028.

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.