Monday, May 23, 2016

Electoral Engagement Metrics Signal Clinton Presidential Win

A new electoral engagement poll conducted by New York-based brand engagement and customer loyalty research consultancy Brand Keys ( places Hillary Clinton significantly ahead of Democratic rival Bernie Sanders and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. This wave of polling, conducted mid-May, found the following overall candidate assessments:

Clinton leading Sanders 88% to 80%

Clinton ahead of Trump (79%) by nine percentage points

The original wave of Electoral Engagement polling in July of 2015 found registered Republicans assessed the yet-untested Donald Trump at 84%. That’s an assessment level that historically indicates a more-than-viable candidate, which – no matter how you feel about him personally – he turned out to be. Now, of course, the real battle for the White House begins.

The new electoral engagement poll numbers were obtained via interviews with 1,500 registered Democrats, 1,450 registered Republicans and 1,350 self-declared Independents drawn from the nine U.S. Census Regions. A difference of 5% is significant at the 95% confidence level. The model is a highly validated process that has been used in every Presidential election since Bill Clinton ran in 1992. It has predicted the winner in every presidential election – with the exception of the 2000 race where George W. Bush beat the predicted winner, Al Gore – an enviable overall 86% success rate.

Polling every presidential election cycle gives Brand Keys the opportunity to recalibrate our measures every four years, just so we know we’re capturing any significant shifts in electoral and voter values like those we’ve seen in every debate, rally and press cycle over the past year.

Electoral Engagement assessments are based on voters’ emotional perceptions of a candidate’s strength versus the voters’ own notions of what an Ideal President (calibrated to be 100%) should be.

Emotional engagement assessments, whether for pizza brands or political parties, measure what consumers think – as opposed to what they say they think, and from an emotional engagement perspective provide the most accurate read to how consumers, or in the case, voters, will behave. This has been the most emotional election cycle voters have seen in a long time, so it’s an important component in the decision process.

Electoral engagement is measured according to four drivers (and voter expectation levels for each of those drivers) that voters use to “define” their Ideal President – on an emotional and rational basis – and then use to compare candidates. The order of electoral engagement drivers and what voters expect vary in terms of what’s important to Democrats, Republicans and Independents, resulting, as you might expect, in different party views, voter standards and candidate preferences. The drivers can be briefly described (alphabetically) as follows:

Action: Does the candidate have a comprehensive, realistic, well-considered plan for    
solving the problems facing the country?

Compassion: Does the candidate care about all the people?

Perception: Does the candidate have a deep understanding of the problems facing the 

Resolve: Does the candidate have the strength and leadership to guide the country?

The order of these electoral engagement drivers for Republicans’ Ideal President looks like this:

Democrats see their Ideal President as follows:


Independents view their Ideal President as follows:


While the differences are nuanced, they have tremendous influence in how a voter will behave. For Democrats, the driver with the highest voter expectations is “Compassion.” For Republicans, it’s “Action.” Independents are interesting because they see their Ideal President has having the first-two drivers of the Republican Ideal and the last-two drivers of the Democratic Ideal, with their highest expectations residing in the Perception driver. That explains why Independents are more often likely to vote for a Republican candidate for President yet maintain a certain degree of distance from the two established political parties, and are more “Democratic” when it comes to local elections.

But this year presents a vastly different political landscape for all political parties, so it will be interesting to see where votes end up. That noted, with the electoral engagement votes in, here’s how registered voters rated candidates.
The order of the drivers tells us how voters are looking at their Ideal President. How well a candidate seems to meet voter expectations for each electoral engagement driver is a good barometer for strategy and messaging. But if you look at the candidates’ overall weighted averages, it’s an even better barometer of who’s going to win. Overall Hillary Clinton rated 88%, Bernie Sanders 80%, and Donald Trump 79%.

         Democrats                     Hillary Clinton                         Bernie Sanders
Perception                                       85%                                           89%
Resolve                                           89%                                           80%           
Compassion                                    83%                                           87%
Action                                              94%                                           70%

Republicans                        Donald J. Trump

Resolve                                           85%
Perception                                       89%
Action                                              79%
Compassion                                    65%

While the individual political party-specific electoral engagement drivers haven’t shifted this election year, expectations have. There has been a great deal of voter value migration and shifts in the traditional political paradigm.

So it might be worth remembering what Will Rogers said: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat,” a statement that might more aptly apply to the Republican Party this year, and a sentiment generally worth taking to heart.

Because whether a political party or a consumer brand, if you are so disorganized that you are unable to meet customer expectations in the right way, you always lose in the marketplace.

Or, as is likely in this case, in the voting booth.

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, May 17, 2016

This past February, Brand Keys announced the list of the top brands that 42,792 U.S. consumers found to be most emotionally engaging and, therefore, the ones they were most loyal to. That meant consumers saw those brands best meeting their ever-expanding, mostly-emotional expectations in the categories in which they competed and the one’s they chose over competitive offerings.  

Alas, as is the nature of lists, there’s a top and a bottom. So now the list of the least-engaging brands of 2016.

While being at the top of this particular list is usually a pretty good guarantee of brand success, increased market share, and profitability. Being at the bottom of that list has very, very little to recommend it. And to be honest, it’s the kind of list you probably haven’t thought about as an aggregated group. But when you read it, we think you’ll find yourself nodding your head, while a small voice whispers “Well, sure, I can see that,” or “yeah, they really screwed up there.”

That will be the rational stuff clarifying in your head because the bottom line is, brands that aren’t doing well when it comes to emotional engagement, also aren’t doing well when it comes to their bottom lines. In all probability, the emotional “voice” articulating your real feelings somewhere in your gut will be telling you, “yeah, they deserve to be at the bottom of the list.”

The fundamental reason the brands ended up there is they were just unable to meet the very high (and ever-growing) emotional expectations consumers bring with them to the marketplace. Those are values consumers use to “measure” brands and is, thus, a predictive measure of how consumers will view the brands and how they’ll compare brands. Most importantly, it tells you how they’ll behave toward the brand and what will then show up (or won’t show up) in the marketplace and, ultimately, on brand profit-loss statements.

This year’s 10 least-engaging brands included the following (presented in reverse order) beginning with the brand with the lowest emotional engagement strength, versus their category’s Ideal, calculated to be 100%. Asterisks (**) indicate brands that are new to the least-engaging list.
  1. Volkswagen (35%)**
  2. Blackberry (37%)
  3. American Apparel (38%)
  4. Cosi (39%)**
  5. AĆ©ropostal (41%)**
  6. Sears (42%)
  7. Budweiser (46)%
  8. Kobo (48%)
  9. Sports Authority (49%)**
  10. Whole Foods (50%)**
Independent validations have proven that brands that better meet consumer expectations always end up on the top of the list. They always see better consumer behavior and, axiomatically, that always results in greater sales and profits (see “2016 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index” results here).

But the reverse is equally true. Think about how you’d feel if you shopped for some brand and it only delivered 39% of what you actually expected! What would that voice in your head say then? Whatever it’s saying, we’re pretty sure it’s not whispering!

Oh, and when it comes to just trying to stay in business, selling off real estate has nothing to do with emotional engagement and pretty much everything to do with short-term survival strategies! Brands that do that usually end up at the bottom of the list or are already at the bottom.

But sometimes – if you know which emotional values to use – rock bottom can be the perfect place to rebuild your brand.

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, May 12, 2016

Changes At Chipotle

After a series of seven outbreaks of E. coli bacterium and salmonella-related illnesses, it can’t have come as any surprise to anyone when Chipotle posted its first loss as a public company. They reported same-store sales fell almost 30%, with operating margins down nearly 75% during its first quarter.

It took Chipotle twenty-two years to transmute from burrito stand to $23 billion brand, so the brand has come a long way. They showed up on our Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI) radar screen 10 years ago and moved up the Fast Casual restaurant loyalty list to take the number one spot. Being #1 looked like their reserved table until the series of disease outbreaks and a loss of customer engagement moved them down the list. This January, customers relegated them to #6, in table terms someplace halfway between the banquette and the toilets in the Fast Casual restaurant space.

Unsurprisingly, the drop in CLEI ranking – accompanied by lower same-store sales and margins – would seem to be self-evident and inevitable. You can’t reasonably offer consumers “quality,” “freshly prepared food,” and then have them get sick without expecting some repercussions! But sick as they might have been, when it comes to loyalty, engaged customers are six times more likely to give a brand the benefit of the doubt in adverse circumstances – like they did with the initial outbreak. And even the six that followed. But too many stomach bugs and bad news will ultimately be too much for customers (albeit engaged customers) to stomach. So the brand that started the “fresh movement,” had to look for a fresh start for itself.

Chipotle added different safety programs and hired experts to make changes to its food preparation processes via central kitchens and their menus. They sanitized lettuce and tomatoes, which were then hermetically sealed and only then shipped to restaurants. Those changes, by their very nature, led to a decline in the promise of “fresh-prepared” quality. “Quality” it may well have been, but “fresh”? Not so much! So Chipotle switched they way they pre-prep some of the ingredients, including bell peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, and beef, so it can be prepped fresh in the restaurants. The brand developed new menu items and initiated a large-scale, free-food promotion. Starting fresh, indeed! So, the question is, are all these changes helping to make gains/re-gains on the brand’s loyalty and engagement levels?

Look, because it doesn’t hurt that loyal and engaged customers are six times more likely to see the actions being taken as responsible, brand value-enhancing, and, most-importantly, believable, theoretically all of this should be working to Chipotle’s advantage. But, as Mark Twain declared, “How empty is theory in the presence of fact.” So let’s take a look at some updated facts about the category and the brand and see if the theory Chipotle cooked up paid off.

Nearly six months into their remedial programs, here’s how the top half of Casual/Fast-Casual brands rank:
  1. Panera
  2. Shake Shack
  3. Chipotle / Olive Garden
  4. Schlotzsky’s
  5. Au Bon Pain
  6. Texas Roadhouse
  7. Denny’s
  8. Arby’s
  9. Chili’s
  10. IHOP
As these rankings always correlate very highly with consumer behavior, a move up the list by 3 spots is a pretty clear that consumers aren’t questioning the brand’s guiding principles and new techniques, which is good news for Chipotle.

And it can be even better news if they are able to follow that old Mexican proverb, “Si usted puede proporcionar a sus clientes con productos frescos y de buen sabor, y el alimento personalizado a un precio que no recibe los enferma, que ha muy probable se tiene un ganador!”(If you can provide your customers with fresh, good tasting, and customized food at a good price that doesn't get them sick, you've very likely got yourself a winner!)

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, May 03, 2016

Beer Manufacturers Are Getting Craftier

Someone once said, “Reality is an illusion caused by a lack of good beer.” But today they might want to amend that statement to read an “excess” of good beer, as some new category realities kick in.

For some background, consider it was 34 years ago when Jim Koch founded the Boston Beer Company. Armed with a revolutionary “craft” alternative to traditional beers, he launched the now-famous Sam Adams brand. Back then Mr. Koch capitalized on shifting consumer tastes and their desire for novelty, and turned the company into what’s now the second-largest craft brewery in the United States. In the regular beer category, Sam Adams shows up at the top of the list in our Customer Loyalty and Engagement Index, and it’s the only craft beer that appears on that list, but it seems that Mr. Koch’s brand may become a casualty of the beer revolution he began.

According to the Brewers Association, of the top 50 overall breweries, 43 are craft brewing companies, meaning companies that produce smaller batches of beer than large-scale corporate breweries whose beers are characterized by an emphasis on quality, flavor, ingredients, and brewing innovation rather than just ubiquitous distribution. To put our “excess of good beer” comment into perspective, new craft breweries are hopping up at about 2 a day, so currently there are currently about 3,100 craft brewers in the U.S., albeit some of them very small.

But it explains part of the reason why domestic craft beer sales were up 22% year-over-year. Well, more options, sure, but also a continuing consumer desire for all things new, with made-to-order better-meets-my-expectations feel to them – or more accurately, a better/different/unique taste. Which is all good for craft brewers, but problematic for bigger, more traditional beer brands. That includes Sam Adams, whose success works against it to a certain degree.

As the brand got more popular and more widely distributed, it lost some of its authenticity, some of its local “craftiness,” if you will. It also means that on-premise and retail competition has gotten a lot tougher, and that’s making the larger, more traditional brewers, including Boston Beer, nervous.

But as they also say, there’s nothing for a case of nerves like a case of beer, or at least case sales of beer, and when it comes specifically to craft beers, for the moment, Sam Adams is #1 on that list too. Here’s how consumers ranked the top brands when it came to meeting consumers’ thirst for a great-tasting beer, with that authentic homegrown brew “feel:”
  1. Sam Adams
  2. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  3. Yuengling
  4. Lagunitas
  5. Fat Tire
  6. Shiner
  7. Brooklyn Lager
  8. Bell’s
  9. Dogfish Head
  10. Deschutes
There are more craft beer brands on the way, so the battle for the retailers’ shelves, saloons’ taps, and consumers’ wallets is only going to surge. And there will be victors and losers, but brewers should be stout of heart. Napoleon advised, “On victory, you deserve beer. On defeat, you need it,” so watch for further dispatches from the front of the battle of the beers.

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.