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Apple, Amazon, Samsung, YouTube, and Twitter led the 'Top 100 Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders List' for 2012, marking the first time the annual list has seen such a seismic shift in loyalty leadership, in terms of new categories and brands making appearances in the top 100. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

According to Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys' founder and president, "Brand loyalty has always been primarily driven by emotional engagement, and the rankings on this year's list make it crystal clear that connection 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."

Twenty-one new brands appeared on the new list, with most of these facilitating social outreach - such as tablets, smartphones, and social networks. Apple and Amazon took the top two spots.

The top ten loyalty leaders ranking was as follows:

  1. Apple: tablets
  2. Amazon: tablets
  3. Apple: smartphone
  4. Amazon: online retail
  5. Apple: computer
  6. Samsung: tablet
  7. Call of Duty: major league gaming
  8. Samsung: cellphone
  9. Halo: major league gaming
  10. Twitter: social networks

Nearly one in four (23%) of the top 100 brands account for consumer outreach and engagement via cellular and social networks, and the phones, smartphones, computers, and tablets needed for the "instant-gratification access consumer expectations cry out for," according to Passikoff.

Beauty and personal care brands accounted for nearly one third of the top 100 in 2011, but in 2012 they represented only 18% of the top 100 brands. "The emotional engagement that women share with their favourite beauty brands can be very powerful but, again, consumers are looking harder for a reason to believe and a reason to bond - and buy - one brand above all the other 'me too' products on store shelves," said Passikoff.

Personal care was not the only category that suffered this year. Retail brands were down nearly one third - both online and offline - on the latest list. "We believe that an inability for retailers to provide meaningful differentiation - beyond low-lower-lowest pricing strategies - has seriously eroded loyalty levels," said Passikoff. While Amazon.com is still high on the list (#4), emotional bonds have weakened across the entire retail category. Zappos moved down the list from #6 to #19, and the next ranked retailer in the new list is Target at #36.

Five automotive brands made the top 100 including: Hyundai (#25), Ford (#39), Toyota (#46), General Motors (#68), and KIA (#99). This is the first time GM and Kia have made the top 100 rankings.

At the same time, alcoholic beverages were significantly better represented, with nine vodka and tequila brands making the list (although even that figure is slightly down from the year before). Grey Goose maintained its loyalty lead at #13 (up two), followed by Ketel One (#24) and Stolichnaya (#34). Don Julio led the tequilas, ranked at #42.

The brands that showed the greatest loyalty gains this year 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," said Passikoff. "But some of the shifts are due to the creation and adoption of new categories that help to better meet - or even exceed - customer expectations. 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."