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Apple, Amazon, What's App, Google, YouTube and Kindle have topped the '2014 Loyalty Leaders List' in the annual survey conducted by branding and customer loyalty research consultancy, Brand Keys Inc. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

With 721 brands in 65 categories for consumers to rate, there was some serious competition for the top 100 spots. This year several categories rose to the top because of the high levels of engagement that consumers show for them and their ability to deliver against consumers' increased expectations.

"This is the 18th year we've aggregate the brand loyalty leaders, and the seismic shifts in loyalty leadership in terms of new categories and brands making their appearance in the consumer's top-100 continues," said Brand Keys' founder and president, Robert Passikoff. "Brand loyalty has always been driven by emotional engagement, and the rankings on the 2014 list should make it abundantly clear to marketers that connection, meaning, and differentiation is everything."

36 New Brands and Categories
Thirty-six of the top 100 2014 Loyalty Leaders are represented by new brands or categories. Most of the new arrivals facilitate communication and social outreach - via tablets, smartphones, and social networks - with What's App (instant messaging), Netflix, and Amazon (video streaming), Instagram, and PayPal (online payments) representing good examples of this trend.

Other, new non-digital/social categories have made their way onto this year's list too, including Fast-Casual Restaurants (Chipotle, Panera, Chick-fil-A), Insurance (USAA), Credit Cards (Discover, American Express), and Beer (Sam Adams). However, Dunkin' Donuts was the only non-digital/social brand in the top-20, up seven spots since 2013.

The top twenty Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders for 2014 ranked as follows:

  1. Amazon: tablets
  2. Apple: tablets
  3. Apple: smartphones
  4. YouTube: social networking
  5. What's App: instant messaging
  6. Amazon: online retail
  7. Google: search engines
  8. Kindle: e-readers
  9. Samsung: smartphones
  10. Dunkin' Donuts: coffee (out-of-home)
  11. Facebook: social networking
  12. Netflix: video streaming
  13. Beats by Dr. Dre: headphones
  14. Call of Duty - Ghosts: major league gaming
  15. Amazon: online retail
  16. Zappos: online retail
  17. Apple: computers
  18. Instagram: social networking
  19. PayPal: online payments
  20. Twitter: social networking

Interestingly, 45% of the top 100 brands accounted for consumer outreach and engagement via mobile and social networks, and the phones, smartphones, computers, and tablets needed to meet the ever-increasing expectations related to outreach and personal connectivity that the consumer uses as a yardstick to measure brands.

Personal Care Brands Trimmed
In 2013 beauty and personal care brands accounted for nearly one-fifth of the top 100 but in 2014 they represent only 13% 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 engage with - and buy - one brand versus myriad 'me-too' products," said Passikoff.

Retailers Ring Up Fewer Ratings
Traditional retail brands were down 50%. "The inability for many retailers to provide meaningful differentiation - beyond low-lower-lowest pricing strategies - has seriously eroded loyalty levels in the retail category," said Passikoff. "That, and a shift to online."

The five retail brands remaining among 2014's Loyalty Leaders include: J. Crew (#50), The Gap (#80), Macy's (#88), Victoria's Secret (#75) and T.J. Maxx (#92).

Driving and Drinking?
Six automotive brands made the top 100 on Brand Keys 2014 Loyalty Leaders List, including: Hyundai (#23), Ford (#26), Toyota (#48), Jeep (#70), Nissan (#94), and KIA (#99). Ford and Toyota moved up the list (+12 spots each), Jeep +11, and Nissan appears on the list for the first time.

"Not surprisingly General Motors didn't make the list this year. Where loyalty exists, consumers are six times more likely to give a brand the benefit of the doubt in uncertain circumstances," said Passikoff, "But the well of forgiveness isn't bottomless, especially in the face of 75 GM recalls (more than 30 million vehicles) this year alone. Loyalty is about the strongest bond you can create between customer and brand, but even loyalty has its limits."

Only four vodka brands made the list, down from last year's six. Grey Goose maintained its loyalty lead in the #25 spot (-13) followed by Ketel One (#29, -10), Tito's (#56 and new to the list) and Smirnoff (#66, +6). The Tequila category was not included in this year's loyalty assessments.

2014 Loyalty Leaders Winners
The brands that showed the greatest loyalty gains this year were: Netflix (+79); Estee Lauder (+31); MAC Cosmetics (+28); HTC smartphones (+26); Cover Girl (+25).

"With minor exceptions, it turns out that the biggest Loyalty Leader Losers were primarily categories and secondarily brands," noted Passikoff. "Certain categories just disappeared."

These included Breakfast Cereal, which used to represent 8% of the list. "This shouldn't surprise anyone," said Passikoff. "The category has seen dramatic shifts over the past few years in how and what is consumed for breakfast, and how much loyalty can you expect when 'differentiation' is defined as which flavour marshmallow is in this particular box."

"E-books, which represented 5% of last year's list got edited down from 2013. Other than Kindle, no other brand got mentioned," noted Passikoff. "It appears as if the other e-book brands were replaced by tablets."

Major brands that had been perennial Loyalty Leaders, but were notably missing from the 2014 list, included: Pepsi and Coke - "Yes, the category has shifted, but they're both cold and refreshing, come in a bottle or a can, have ubiquitous brand awareness and distribution, and are each on sale alternate weeks. What is there to be loyal about?" asks Passikoff; and of course ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, and the Today Show (all of which simply didn't report for the 2014 list. "Some of this is accounted for by the ascendancy of mobile. Today a tablet screen and a TV screen are regarded as two entirely different platforms engendering different loyalty and engagement levels for different programming. Certainly they're watched, but they're not considered first-source," noted Passikoff.

McDonald's, which until 2013 had appeared on the Loyalty Leaders List since its inception in 1996, also dropped off the top 100 list.

"Finally, you can search all you want but you won't find Bing or Yahoo in the 2014 list either," said Passikoff. "When it comes to search engines, Google (#7) is the only one that appears."