Last week, the New York-based brand engagement and customer loyalty research consultancy Brand Keys released the results of its 21st annual Customer Loyalty Index.

This latest Index was the product of input from 40K+ U.S. consumers, aged 18 to 65, where respondents self-selected both the categories in which they are consumers and the brands for which they are among the top-20% of customers. You’ll likely recognize these individuals – they’re the coveted loyal consumers with whom your brand most wants to engage.

Brand Keys found that emotional engagement – the Holy Grail for brands since it’s a key indicator of consumer behavior, sales and corporate profitability – has become even harder to achieve. Why? Because the drivers of brand engagement are shifting towards “emotional values.”  As Brand Keys’ president Robert Passikoff observed, “As rational attributes have become price-of-entry ‘givens’ for today’s consumers, emotional values have become more problematic for brands.”

“To succeed,” said Mr. Passikoff, “marketers need to accurately answer these questions, ‘what drives my category, what are the emotional engagement values I need to focus on, how can my brand exceed consumer expectations for those emotional values?’ To their detriment, most brands can’t.”

Mr. Passikoff’s comments don’t surprise us here at Stellar Loyalty. In fact, they were reflected to a large degree in a recent report from the industry group Loyalty360 (disclaimer: Stellar Loyalty was one of the report’s sponsors). According to Loyalty360, a bevy of fundamental issues persist that get in the way of brands truly making that emotional value connection with consumers, including:

  • Failure to personalize: Most marketers say personalization is key, yet few have adopted any personalization methods.
  • Dead-end data: Brands can gather more data about their customers, sure, but that data doesn’t always translate into greater insight to inform customer experience.
  • Old-school tools: many marketers today may need a total reboot to better optimize digital and mobile-first programs to catch up with how their customer prefer to communicate and interact.

The sum of all this? Consumers want and expect more from their preferred brands. And too many brands are not keeping up with the reality that legacy loyalty programs focused on earn/reward/redeem are no longer enough to build the kind of emotional engagement that drives true customer loyalty.

Until your loyalty program can dance in step with the rhythms of your customers’ emotional values, high-impact engagement will remain elusive. To borrow a phrase from former IBM chief Lou Gerstner in his book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?: “It isn’t a question of whether elephants can prevail over ants. It’s a question of whether a particular elephant can dance. If it can, the ants must leave the dance floor.”