Brand Loyalty Here To Stay -- But Now It's 'Emotional Engagement'

A recent spate of articles have declared that brand loyalty is in jeopardy, or even -- as suggested recently in a commentary in this publication -- “on its way out.” The reality is, brand loyalty not only exists, but is a measurable, leading indicator of consumer behavior and brand profitability, and is not going away anytime soon.

The thing is, today’s brand loyalty is different from the brand loyalty of the last century. It has adapted to new consumers in a new marketplace.

If it helps, I invite you to think about brand loyalty as a consumer’s emotional engagement with a brand. In fact, I urge you to. Because emotional brand engagement is the 21st century paradigm for loyalty.

Real assessments of loyalty measure the emotional engagement between the consumer and brand versus the consumer’s perception of their category ideal, best defined as the degree to which a brand is able to meet the expectations consumers hold for their category Ideal. Brands that can do that always see what might reasonably be called “loyalty.” In fact, 25 years of research and independent validity studies have demonstrated a brand that best meets your expectations is the one that you’re six times more likely to buy -- and buy again.



Those engagement levels can identify differences between loyal customers and casual customers. The ability for a brand to meet your expectations identifies a point on a continuum, between brand obsession and indifference. Emotional brand engagement levels vary from category-to-category but are always predictive of consumer behavior. Yes, it’s a more complex measure to take, but today’s consumers, and today’s brand loyalty are more complex too.

A lot of commentators have based their opinions on a McKinsey survey that noted shortages during the pandemic resulted in people buying whatever was available, with a third of respondents trying new brands.

Does that surprise you? You couldn’t get Charmin, so you bought another toilet paper! Does that dumbfound you? Nah, me either. Researchers really ought to note the distinction between need and allegiance before leaping to the QED, brand loyalty is on its way out.

A tiny segment of respondents indicated the new brands would have standing in future purchase decisions. Well, OK. Except as far back as 1990, researchers knew “purchase intent” was notoriously overstated in survey responses. What the survey did confirm was the efficacy of mid-1980 satisfaction and total-quality movements, which made primacy-of-product the rule rather than the exception.

So, there was pretty much no downside to buying  a “new” brand of toilet paper when Charmin wasn’t available, until it was, and consumers went back to buying it and not the “new brand.” So much for standing in the purchase decision.

And yeah, you might try another brand because something’s new. Novelty has its place, but it almost never unseats a brand that best meets your expectations. Unless it meets expectations better than your current brand. That’s called “good marketing.”

And buying a brand regularly? That’s called “loyalty.”

7 comments about "Brand Loyalty Here To Stay -- But Now It's 'Emotional Engagement'".
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  1. Ronald Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, March 22, 2021 at 2:35 p.m.

    "Emotiona brand engagement" equals brand loyalty? Hard to imagine this is a reliable predictor of repetitive purchases. Seems product attirbutes, value, and availablitly would be much more importatnt package of factors. 

  2. Robert Passikoff from Brand Keys, Inc., March 22, 2021 at 4:07 p.m.

    Sorry, Ronald. It may be hard to imagine for you, but this is an independently-validated assessments. We're only granted 500 words, but I'd respectfully suggest you check out our website and see how we se correlations of consumer behavior with emotional engagement metrics in the 0.80+ range. BTW, yes, availability matters, but given the option between one product and one which engenders higher levels of emotional engagement, the latter will always be chosen.

  3. Ronald Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center replied, March 22, 2021 at 5:36 p.m.

    With all due respect Robert, I am still skeptical because I know how people can be enticed to answer surveys is often different from how they act in the real world. 

  4. Stewart Pearson from Consilient Group, March 23, 2021 at 12:58 a.m.

    Robert, Ronald: surely you are both right. 

    Case: Patagonia's deep loyalty (buying and wearing the brand) is is values-based and emotional. Panera's free coffee subscription generated an innovative value proposition and availability elevating the business in an otherwise daily, mundane category.  

    I bet I could find brands with names staring with any letter of the alphabet demonstrating the spectrum of rewards for behaviors with emotional connection. 


  5. Jim Thompson from Temple University, March 24, 2021 at 2:37 p.m.

    Robert, thank you for bringing common sense to the Brand Loyalty discussion.

  6. Robert Passikoff from Brand Keys, Inc., March 25, 2021 at 4:13 p.m.

    Ronald, with due respect and your skepticism notywithstanding, may I suggest you give our site,, a read and see how we use psychological metrics to obviate the problem of "enticing" answers. Also, and agian, the actual correlations based on independent validations of 0.80+ with our metrics makes them some of the most accurate in the world. 

  7. Ronald Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, March 25, 2021 at 5:15 p.m.

    Robert, your website is very impressive in terms of the results it promises, but very little information is provided on your methodology or questionnaire. Without more information about these two critical elements I remain skeptical. As stated on your website: It’s just like David Ogilvy warned, “Consumers don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say.”

    Panels can have a number of structural deficiences and respondents will often express their ideals but be unwilling to incur even moderate extra expense or inconvenience to obtain the ideal. 

    Admittedly I am perhaps old fashioned in my skepticism about new concepts such as emotional engagement and intelligence of brands. Over the years I have seen a number of new research concepts come and go. Ron 

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