MBPT Spotlight: Brand Keys Survey Finds Growing Gulf For Brands Reaching Out To Customers

A gap is growing between what customers want and what brands can deliver, according to a new survey by Brand Keys.

“Empowered and socially networked consumers have come to expect everything from brands, particularly as it regards emotional gratification and engagement,” says Brand Keys president Robert Passikoff.

The 2015 survey shows that consumer expectations for brands have increased nearly 20% over the survey conducted in early 2014. Passikoff says while this new environment is marked by extraordinarily high levels of consumer expectations, brands overall have only managed to improve their ability to satisfy those expectations by 7% this year.

The brands that have done so, Passikoff says, “always have higher engagement power, more loyal customers and, axiomatically, greater sales and profits.” The difficult part, he adds, “is accurately measuring this gap and determining what emotional values can help a brand successfully fill it.”

The data is contained in Brand Keys’ 2015 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index for which 36,605 consumers aged 18-65 from nine U.S. Census regions were surveyed. As part of the annual survey, the participants selected the brand categories in which they are consumers and customers of. The survey included 70% interviews by phone, 25% face-to-face and 5% online. The data gathering includes questioning about consumers’ path-to-purchase drivers, in which they describe how they will view a category, compare brands, engage with a brand, buy it and then remain loyal.

Assessments from this year’s index found the gap between what consumers expect and what brands deliver is not only bigger than in years’ past, but it is almost entirely driven by emotional values. The index finds that more emotionally driven categories have higher expectations that escalate faster. More rational categories have lower expectations and are more stable.

“Marketers acknowledge consumer expectation is a new area they need to add to guarantee engagement and profitability,” Passikoff says. But most marketers, he adds, while trying to engage consumers differently, don’t have the right predictive emotional engagement metrics. “Many brands try to shoehorn values that they’ve seen work in categories that are entirely different from their own. When they do that, they really shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t work.”

Passikoff says brands need to go beyond just trying to under-price their competitors or to use catchy phrases or taglines in their campaigns. This is particularly true for brands in rational categories such as cereal and soda. “Brands in these categories need to find ways to customize their products,” he says. Coca-Cola’s “Share A Coke” campaign, where it printed people’s first names on its bottles, was an attempt at customization. But its current “Coke Makes You Smile” campaign doesn’t offer anything that differentiates the brand from its competitors. “The bottom-line is Coke is still just brown, carbonated sugar water and preaching that it makes people smile is not going to lure consumers away from other brands,” he says.

He says the NikeiD Program in which consumers could customize their own pair of sneakers is an example of differentiating the brand from its competitors and offering consumers an emotional bond to the brand.

He adds that chains such as Panera and Chipotle work closer with customers when devising their menus than some of the other chains which he says offer “conveyor belt” menus.

Bank On It

A major example of a category that has changed over the years to meet consumer needs and expectations is banking. “Banks used to be open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., five days a week with no ATMs,” Passikoff says. “Today they have evolved with many open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, not only with ATM access, but the ability to deposit checks on weekends and after hours, and to [mobile banking] electronically.”

The wireless category is another that continues to strive to meet consumer expectations with all its innovations. “Today, most people are buying their next smartphone for features beyond just being able to call someone,” Passikoff says.

The Brand Keys annual index lists consumer rankings of brands in 64 categories; it can be found on its website here.

Below are the rankings of brands that best meet consumer expectations and engagement in the Sports & Entertainment category.

Among the major professional sports leagues, the NFL is the leader in consumer emotional engagement, followed by MLB, the NBA and the NHL.

Among the online music sites, the leader is Pandora, followed by Spotify, iHeartRadio, Soundcloud, Beat Music, iTunes, Rdio and Grooveshare (tied for seventh) and Google Play and Rhapsody (tied for ninth).

Consumer engagement leaders among the evening news networks are NBC, followed by ABC, CBS, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and CNBC. In morning news it’s Good Morning America (ABC), followed by Today (NBC), CBS This Morning, Fox & Friends, New Day (CNN) and Morning Joe (MSNBC). (It may be interesting to note that the survey was conducted months before the recent Brian Williams scandal.)

Among online video streamers, the leader is Netflix, followed by Amazon, a three-way tie for third between iTunes, Google Play and Hulu, and a two-way tie for sixth between YouTube and Crackle. Vudu and Vimeo are tied for eighth, followed by Veoh and Iwatchonline.

And in the area of video-gaming, the consumer engagement leader is Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, followed by Grand Theft Auto V. Tied for third isFIFA 15 and Watch Dogs, with Assassins Creed fifth, Battlefield Hardline andNBA 2K 15 tied for sixth, Minecraft seventh, followed by Destiny and a tie between Batman: Arkham Knight and Madden Football ‘15.

“Consumer expectations always grow, so being attentive to the engagement expectation gap in one’s category presents a brand with a real opportunity,” Passikoff says. “If a marketer does something that increases a brand’s engagement level they always see more positive consumer behavior in the marketplace related to their product.”

He says brands that are assessed as better at meeting consumer expectations “always have a greater market share and are always more profitable than the competition. All marketers need is an accurate answer to these questions—’What do my customers expect’ and ‘What values will fulfill those expectations?’”