Out of 598 brands in 83 categories, it was Apple, Amazon, Samsung, YouTube, and Twitter that topped the 'Top 100 Loyalty Leaders List' survey for 2012, conducted by New York-based customer loyalty research firm Brand Keys. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

In total, 21 new brands emerged in the 2012 loyalty leadership list, with most of the new arrivals being associated with 'social outreach' - for example, tablet computers, smartphones, and social networks.

"This is our 16th year aggregating the brand loyalty leaders, and it's the first time we've seen such a seismic shift in loyalty leadership in terms of new categories and brands making their appearance in the top 100," noted Brand Keys' founder and president, Robert Passikoff. "Brand loyalty has always been primarily driven by emotional engagement, and the rankings on this year's list make it crystal clear that connection - that is, consumer engagement - is everything. This year certain categories rose to the top because of the high levels of engagement that consumers show, and what they deliver versus consumers' expectations."

The top-10 Brand Keys loyalty leaders for 2012 were:

  1. Apple: tablets;
  2. Amazon: tablets;
  3. Apple: smartphone;
  4. Amazon: on-line retail;
  5. Apple: computers;
  6. Samsung: tablets;
  7. Call of Duty: major league gaming;
  8. Samsung: cellphones;
  9. Halo: major league gaming;
  10. Twitter: social networks.

Some 23% of the top 100 brands are in the fields of consumer outreach and engagement via cellular and social networks - and of course the phones, smartphones, computers, and tablets needed for the instant gratification that consumer expectations demand.

In 2011, beauty and personal care brands accounted for nearly one third of the top 100 but, in 2012, these represented only 18% of the top 100 brands. According to Passikoff, the emotional engagement that women share with their favourite beauty brands can be very powerful, but they now looking harder for meaningful reasons to believe in, bond with, and buy one particular brand among the myriad 'me-too' products.

Retail brands (especially bricks and clicks retailers) were down nearly one third in the 2012 list. "We believe that the inability for retailers to provide meaningful differentiation - beyond low-lower-lowest pricing strategies - has seriously eroded loyalty levels in the retail category," warned Passikoff.

Amazon.com remains high on the list (#4) but consumers' emotional bonds weakened across the entire retail category. For example, Zappos (#6 in 2011) moved down the list to #19 in 2012, with the next retailer being Target at #36 in the list.

Five automotive brands made the top 100 list in 2012: Hyundai (#25), Ford (#39), Toyota (#46), General Motors (#68), and KIA (#99) - and this is the first time that either GM or Kia have made the top 100 rankings.

The brands that showed the greatest loyalty gains in 2012 were:

  1. Sephora (+60)
  2. Starbucks (+55)
  3. Ford (+47)
  4. Samsung smartphones (+30)
  5. Costco (+24)

Brands that saw the greatest erosion of loyalty and engagement included:

  1. Netflix (-69)
  2. Bing (-60)
  3. Blackberry (-40)
  4. B.J.'s Price Club (-31)
  5. Flickr (-29)

"Some brands suffered losses because of the economy as consumers shifted to less expensive brands that still held some degree of meaning," explained Passikoff. "Some of the shifts are due to the creation and adoption of new categories that help to better meet - or even exceed - customer expectations. But brands that understand that real emotional connections can serve as a surrogate for added-value will always top the list, no matter what the state of the economy."