The gap between consumer expectations and brand delivery widens

With today’s consumers being so fickle, is there such a thing as brand loyalty? While it may seem rare, brand loyalty does exist, although brands must do increasingly more to meet consumers’ expectations and allegiances.

Shifts in the order of product/service category loyalty drivers in nearly 90 percent (89%) of the categories in the food and beverage sector in the United States have fundamentally changed the face of brand loyalty, radically widening gap between customer desire and brand delivery, according to the 26th annual Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI), conducted by Brand Keys.

“Two and a half years after the pandemic upended life, the marketplace is normalising,” said Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, the New York-based brand loyalty and customer engagement research consultancy. “But the characterisation ‘normalised’ now takes into account extraordinarily complex levels of social and consumer advocacy, combative political tribalism, and an economic rollercoaster, all of which explain consumers’ new views of product categories and brands amid frighteningly higher expectations.”

The only coffee or tea brand to make Brand Keys’ 2023 Food & Beverage Customer Loyalty #1 list is Dunkin’ — and it is its first time on the list. F&B brands rated #1 this year include:

· Aquafina

· Ben & Jerry’s

· Campbell’s

· Cheetos

· Chipotle

· Coors Light

· Corona Extra

· Dannon

· Diet Pepsi

· Domino’s

· Don Julio Tequila

· Doritos

· Dunkin’

· Grey Goose

· Jack Daniels

· Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain

· Lays

· Oscar Meyer

· Pepsi

· Planters

· Red Bull

· Snyders

For this year’s survey, Brand Keys interviewed 113,550 consumers, 16 to 65 years of age, 58% female, 42% male, with balanced samples drawn from the nine US Census Regions. The entire survey included 987 brands. Coffee is assessed from two POVs: Out-of-Home (which for 2023 examined four national brands) and Packaged Coffee (which examined 11 brands, identified by the respondents themselves).

I am not surprised Dunkin’ made the customer loyalty list in the ‘out-of-home’ coffee category. Since dropping ‘Donuts’ from its name, Dunkin’ has made a concerted effort to target coffee drinkers, primarily, but also tea drinkers. The brand continually rolls out seasonal offerings as well as new flavours — its newest espresso-blended beverage, the Brown Butter Toffee Latte, for example, launched 28 December 2022. The Blood Orange Dunkin’ Refresher, designed to be blended with green tea or coconut milk, was introduced earlier in the fall. Dunkin’ also offers its ‘Reward Members’ ample perks. For instance, through 31 January (highlighting just coffee), Rewards Members are entitled to (with any purchase): one free medium iced coffee, one free medium cold brew, or one USD $2 medium hot or iced latte.

In September 2022, Dunkin’ also announced a commitment to having 100% responsibly sourced coffee by 2025. And like many other coffee and tea brands, Dunkin’ has partnered with like-minded organisations to support the regions where it sources its coffee to help make a difference in the lives and livelihoods of coffee farmers and producers.

Passikoff noted that as complex as the brandscape and consumers have become, the new paradigm for loyalty can be captured in two words – ‘customer expectations.’ “But as expectations are more emotional than rational, identifying them is tricky. It’s tricky because expectations are often unarticulated and more-often subconsciously felt. Hence our use of psychological measures,” he said. “Shifts in expectations result in massive changes in consumer wants, needs and desires. And how brands are seen capable of delivering against those expectations. You really do need to be able to measure both those things. Customer loyalty is calibrated precisely to those expectations,” explained Passikoff.

He added that consumers have an ideal for every product and service that they use to gauge how brands measure up when it comes to their loyalty. It describes the emotional and rational values each consumer uses, often unarticulated and more-often subconsciously felt, to view the category, to compare brands, and to buy and remain loyal.

More importantly, whether emotionally or rationally based, consumers hold expectations for each value, said Passikoff, noting that those include aspects like personal goals, connection, customer experience, image and self-image, and the basics: value, availability, product range, product efficacy, reputation, and trust.

“Brands that best meet consumer expectations always have the most-loyal customers,” said Passikoff.

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