Four observations hit me when reviewing the 2011 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index; which evaluates some 530 brands across 79 categories.

Surprise & Delight

What has previously distinguished the ability of a brand to gain high customer loyalty, attributes like good taste for food or high value for money, for example, are becoming table stakes and are not differentiating the successful brands. The market seems to have turned to rewarding innovation that makes a positive difference in people’s lives and even leads to a “delight” experience. In fast food, for example, where people are looking for more and healthier choices and bottled water where “environmentally sound” was important.

Dominate a Subcategory

I would say that at least four of the top ten brands, Netflix, Apple, Discover, Mary Kay dominate a category or subcategory. They then have not be mired in the “my brand is better than your brand” world. They are rather promoting and managing a category or subcategory.

Have the “Whole Package”

Hyundai for the second year is the number one automobile brand being rewarded for having the whole package – quality products, appealing design, self-expressive benefits (of having the smarts and independence to buy a Korean car) and the brilliant Assurance program during the tough times. Ford moved up to second place in part because its ability to avoid a government assistance and in part because of the appeal of its new models.

Customer Experience is Everything

The top out-of-home coffee for the fourth consecutive year was Dunkin Donuts which was ahead of both Starbucks and McDonald’s. The number one loyalty drive was not quality/taste but service/surroundings. Who would have thought? As I have found from analyzing the annual BrandJapan survey of 1,000 brands much can be learned from a time series of brand equity tracking. I reported some of these BrandJapan learning in my Marketing News column on several occasions. The Brand Keys data base is a similar opportunity to have a perspective on the larger market dynamics.