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Loyalty is Growing, but is More Complex and Harder to Sustain


Customer brand loyalty has increased on average 20% from 2019 to 2020 across 85 leading B2C, B2B, and D2C categories, which encompass 16 industry sectors and 833 brands, according to Brand Keys 25th annual Customer Loyalty Engagement Index(CLEI), conducted by the New York-based brand engagement and customer loyalty research consultancy (

Loyalty didn’t die. Rather, it has evolved in a more complex marketplace with more sophisticated out-of-home restaurant patrons, according to Brand Keys.

How complex? In every restaurant sector (100%) the path-to-purchase category loyalty drivers have new, consumer-generated configurations. Attribute, benefit and value components that form the components of those drivers have grown more complex, more connected, and more emotional in 85% of the sectors.

Restaurant Brands’ 2020 Loyalty Focus

Numbers in parentheses indicate YOY increases of in-market brand loyalty.

Chick-fil-A (Fast Casual +28%)
Dunkin’ (Out-of-Home Coffee +22%)
Domino’s (Pizza +13%)
Five Guys (Fast Food +12%)

Defining Loyalty For The 21st Century

“Two decades into the 21st century the world has more complex brand and mediascapes. It’s more data-rich and technologically-intensive. Consumers are more complex, connected, and complicated. They connect with each other before even considering connecting to a brand and assess loyalty relative to how they envision an ‘Ideal’ brand,” said Passikoff.

“It only takes a nanosecond for consumers to note how well a brand is ‘seen’ to meet their expectations for the path-to-purchase drivers that defines behavior toward and fidelity to a brand. That’s the 21st century version of brand loyalty,” said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys. “Brands that can meet  consumer expectations will always see higher levels of engagement, loyalty, and sales.”

Independent validations by the ARF verify that definition. Correlations between assessments based on this updated definition of loyalty and consumer behavior are 0.80+. “Marketers who focus on so-called ‘loyalty programs’ expecting real brand allegiance, totally miss the point,” noted Passikoff.

Orders Of Path-to-Purchase Loyalty Driver Change, Becomes More Complex

Categories and brands are not static. They change, and how consumers view, compare, and buy, are governed by the order and level of expectation of the key loyalty drivers in any category.

Disruptive market forces, technology, innovation and relentless competition all play a part in how the order of loyalty drivers shift and why consumer-value components become more complex. “But the end results are predominantly driven by consumers’ attitudes and desires, much of which is unarticulated,” noted Passikoff, “and virtually all of which are emotionally-based.”

Brand Keys’ predictive research methodology identifies shifts 12 to 18 months before they appear in traditional brand tracking, focus groups or traditional research surveys based on a 20th century definition of ‘loyalty’.

The order of importance of drivers represents a value continuum that consumers navigate, largely unconsciously, in their purchase and loyalty journeys. Consumers hold specific expectations for each category loyalty driver and use their expectations for the Category Ideal as a “yardstick” against which they measure brand performance. Brands that best meet consumer expectations always have the most-loyal customers and, not-so-coincidently, the strongest sales and highest profits.

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