Google Tops Brand Loyalty List

NEW YORK For the second consecutive year, Google was the top brand in the “2008 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Leaders List,” which included 374 brands. The study was conducted among 26,000 consumers in September.

“[Google is] always coming up with add-ons that are cool,” said Warren Church, vp of brand strategy at Deskey, a branding agency in Cincinnati. “Talk about eye-tracking studies . . . you’re always staring at Google.”

Innovation, creativity and a consumer-comes-first attitude helped Google retain the top position.

Avis, which held the top slot for six of the survey’s 11-year existence, was No. 2 this year. Meanwhile, rival Hertz shot up from 87 to 13. Again, innovation was a key factor driving consumer loyalty. “Car rental companies have always had high expectations,” said Robert Passikoff, president at Brand Keys, New York. “Hertz has done some nice work in terms of added value extras they provide.”

According to Rich Broome, a rep at Hertz, Park Ridge, N.J., “Innovation leadership is an important part of our DNA. It continues to this day and will accelerate for years to come.” However, Broome said the key is “never reducing vigilance on anything that has to do with customer service.”

Cosmetics, a category that focuses on constantly creating new and better products, was introduced to the survey this year. Many of the segment’s leaders drew high marks, and 12 of the top 25 brands overall were from cosmetic companies. Mary Kay (3), Maybelline (4), Estee Lauder (5) and Clinique (8) led the pack. The “emotional engagement” that women share with their favorite beauty brands is powerful, said Passikoff. “At a time when many brands are becoming commodities and turning into category placeholders, creating that emotional bond is the only way they can guarantee loyalty.”

Cosmetic brands benefit because their marketing is more about faith than claims, said Church. “They’ve stayed out of the trenches of ‘our product will give you a seven-times more shinier face.’ It’s more ‘do you want to look younger and more radiant?’ That’s home run language right there . . . [For the consumer], it’s about looking into the mirror and seeing what you want to see.”

Other segments are suffering because of the economy, including higher-end hotel chains. Fairmont Hotels dropped from 10 to 28, Hyatt slipped from 8 to 32 and Marriott fell from 15 to 55. “That’s the economy talking,” said Passikoff. “It’s become a value proposition.”

Still, some hoteliers have remained strong. Embassy Suites successfully straddled value and luxury and jumped from 180 to 30. Hilton remained at 53 while Ritz-Carlton fell only slightly, from 45 to 50.

Wal-Mart’s “Save money. Live better” value message is serving the retailer well. It moved to 18 from 63. “Times are hard. You look at Wal-Mart and say, ‘They’re really not that bad.’ With all of the cost cutting going on, why not go to Wal-Mart,” said Church. “It’s cool to be thrifty these days.”