The ongoing pandemic - both medical and economic, in fact - has significantly altered customers' brand allegiances, with 20% of brands with the greatest customer loyalty being new contenders in the 2020 edition of the 'Top 100 Loyalty Leaders List' from Brand Keys. This article is copyright 2020 The Best Customer Guide.

The 24th annual US Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders List included the most new entries in the Top 100 since the survey's introduction. Brands joining the 2020 Loyalty Leaders List included: Disney (#7), UPS (#21), FedEx (#25), Clorox (#30) Purell (#39), CVS (#41), Zoom (#48), Ben & Jerry's (#61), Square (#67), Progressive (#69), Budweiser (#72), T-Mobile (#73), Coors Light (#75), Charmin (#76), State Farm (#78), Campbell's (#88), Grand Theft Auto V (#92), Mattel (#94), Crossfire (#99), and Farmers Insurance (#100).

The study is a cross-category examination of brands in the time of COVID-19 and massive economic disruption. The annual survey, conducted by Brand Keys, a New York-based brand loyalty and customer engagement research consultancy, examined 1,121 brands in 109 categories.

Who Showed Up? Who Delivered?
"For consumers, the critical questions were, 'who showed up' and 'who delivered' when needed most?" said Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president. "Even during these difficult times, consumers won't settle for a hearty, 'We're in this together' message. They won't settle for easy. They won't settle for average. They won't settle for ordinary. Consumers demand their expectations be met. Some brands delivered, others didn't. Consumers acknowledged brands that showed up and snubbed the no-shows!"

The Top 20 Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders for 2020 were as follows (the numbers in parentheses indicate 2019 loyalty rankings, where applicable):

  1. Amazon: online retail (#1)
  2. Netflix: video streaming (#6)
  3. Amazon: video streaming (#7)
  4. Apple: smartphones (#8)
  5. Domino's: pizza (#15)
  6. Google: search engines (#2)
  7. Disney: video streaming (new)
  8. Home Depot: Home improvement retail (#37)
  9. WhatsApp: instant messaging (#12)
  10. Samsung: smartphones (#3)
  11. Instagram: social networking (#22)
  12. Nike: athletic footwear (#17)
  13. PayPal: online payments (#21)
  14. Amazon: tablets (#4)
  15. Apple: tablets (#5)
  16. Discover: credit cards (#18)
  17. YouTube: social networking (#35)
  18. Hyundai: automotive (#10)
  19. Hulu: video streaming (#32)
  20. Trader Joe's: natural food retail (#9)

Supercharged Newcomers
"Consumers rated new brands at 10 times the usual rate," noted Passikoff. "Twenty brands debuted in the Top 100, with brands' movements up the Loyalty Leaders List supercharged largely by being there for consumers when needed. Those brands didn't disappoint, they met incredibly high expectations, and consumers recognized them for that."

The Biggest Winners of 2020
Loyalty metrics are always predictive of future consumer behavior. "The more loyalty, the better behavior toward a brand. The better behavior, the stronger a brand's bottom line," added Passikoff.

Brands that showed the largest loyalty surges this year included: Smirnoff (+26), Dollar Tree (+20), GEICO (+19), YouTube (+18), Jack Daniels (+16), Whole Foods (+16), Ketel One (+16), and Chobani (+15).

Categories & Brands Vaporized
"The combination of the economic crisis and COVID-19 obliterated certain categories," said Passikoff. "Eighteen brands - including McDonald's, Expedia, Under Armour, LinkedIn, and Delta - that we might have normally expected to appear in the Top 100 were excluded this year, seen by consumers as dispensable or AWOL."

Categories that fell into that rubric included: apparel retailers, automotive, fast-casual restaurants, all travel related categories (car rentals, airlines, automotive, online travel sites) and B2B products and services.

Loyalty Deflation and 'The New Abnormal'
"The COVID-19 and economic crises hit certain categories harder than others," noted Passikoff. "The loyalty assessments reflect true brand allegiance, but it's only fair to note that consumers either did not have access to or the immediate need, had the pandemic not been raging, stores weren't forced to close, unemployment wasn't so high, and the 'new normal' wasn't so abnormal."

Those realities affected loyalty levels of these brands and their ranking in the Loyalty Leaders Top 100: Avis (-58), Ford (-58), T.J. Maxx (-46), Old Navy (-35), Twitter (-26), Lancome (-25), Ralph Lauren (-23), Uber (-23), and Estee Lauder (-19).

Loyalty Is Emotional - And So Are Consumers
Brands that connect emotionally with consumers, and brands that meet consumer expectations, always do better during crises - usually six times better. "The 2020 Loyalty Leaders List proves that brands can emerge from watershed moments even stronger than before. Brands that do it right, brands that show up, can be surrogates for comfort, support, and added-value. Those brands always do better than the competition. Brands that make loyalty and emotional engagement a priority," noted Passikoff, "always appear high on the Loyalty Leaders List. More importantly, they show up on consumers' shopping lists too."

The complete '2020 Top 100 Loyalty Leaders List' has been made available to download from Brand Keys' web site, at: https://brandkeys.com