The 11 Brands With the Most Loyal Customers

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Sam AdamsWhen it comes to shopping, there are products we'll buy based on price, and there are products we won't. That generic ketchup may be on sale for 30% less, but you're still probably going to put the bottle of Heinz in your cart.

It's called brand loyalty, and it's something every company that sells anything is striving to induce in its potential customers. Last week, research consultancy Brand Keys revealed which American companies do it best.

The 2012 Brand Keys report examines the customer loyalty and brand satisfaction of nearly 600 brands in 83 major product categories. Consumers surveyed were asked to rank the brands based on quality, level of enjoyment, ease of use, respectability, and other category-specific factors. Brand Keys gave each product an ideal score -- the highest rank a customer would be willing to give a product in that category. 24/7 Wall St. identified the 11 brands that received the highest scores relative to each product's ideal ranking.

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Not all categories are created equal. Consumers have different expectations for different products: You give more scrutiny to your tablet computer than you do to your gasoline, for example. According to the study, people expect a great deal from things such as smartphones and luxury hotels. But they expect much less satisfaction from items like allergy medications, diet sodas and laundry detergents -- so those products start off with lower "ideal" scores.

Many of the brands that made our list are for products of the "lower expectations" variety, and the differences in the satisfaction scores among the brands in those categories are small, suggesting that customers perceive little difference between them. Instead, brand recognition appears to be the key factor -- and almost every brand in the top 11 is the market-share leader in its category.

But customers' higher expectations can be met and exceeded. The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare video game franchise had among the highest product satisfaction scores of any product. Meanwhile, customers' expectations for video games are among the highest for any category. The major league gaming category had the tenth-highest ideal score out of the 83 categories.

The 11 Brands With the Most Loyal Customers

Product score/ideal rank: 96.43%
Ideal score: 140
Loyalty score: 135
Category: Video streaming websites
Parent company: Google (GOOG)

Created by former PayPal employees, YouTube is the leader in video streaming by a country mile. YouTube began in 2005 as a small site that allowed users to upload and watch each other's videos. Since then, YouTube has become the third-most visited site on the Internet. In the past several years, other video streaming services, including Vimeo and Dailymotion, have popped up. However, the site remains the undisputed leader in viewership. According to ComScore's measurement of videos watched, Google sites -- which, when it comes to video, mostly means YouTube -- have a 46.6% market share. Users rated YouTube highly for ease of use and its good selection of content.

Product score/ideal rank: 96.43%
Ideal score: 140
Loyalty score: 135
Category: Cat food
Parent company: Nestle

Founded in St. Louis in 1894 by William H. Danforth, Purina was originally an animal feed company. While Purina produced animal "chow" of all kinds, it developed into one of the leading pet food brands. In 2001, the company became part of Swiss brand giant Nestle, which owned the only other major competing pet food at the time, Friskies. Purina's cat food receives high scores for having "good flavor," having high-quality ingredients, and being a trustworthy brand.

Product score/ideal rank: 96.43%
Ideal score: 140
Loyalty score: 135
Category: Packaged ice cream
Parent company: Unilever (UL)

Ben & Jerry's began producing homemade ice cream in Waterbury, Vt., back in 1978, and grew to national popularity thanks to creative flavors, a high butterfat content, and a brand that capitalized on counter-cultural references and its founders' socially conscious ethos. In 2000, the company was bought out by British-Dutch food giant Unilever. While some see the Ben & Jerry's identity as conflicting with that of its multinational conglomerate parent, that hasn't hurt its brand affinity. The ice cream line scored high marks for flavor, healthy options, and trustworthiness.

Product score/ideal rank: 96.43%
Ideal score: 140
Loyalty score: 135
Category: Packaged ice cream
Parent company: Dreyer's

Häagen Dazs is in a dead heat with Ben & Jerry's as the ice cream brand with the most customer loyalty. Founded in the Bronx in the 1960s by Polish immigrants, the company has become an internationally-recognized seller of high-quality ice cream. Those surveyed rated Häagen Dazs highly for having great-tasting flavors, healthy choices, and a good selection of flavors and carton sizes.

Product score/ideal rank: 96.43%
Ideal score: 140
Loyalty score: 135
Category: Facial moisturizer
Parent company: L'Oreal (LRLCY)

Of the seven companies ranked in the facial moisturizer category, the skincare line of L'Oreal was the most trusted brand, beating out Avon, Neutrogena, and Mary Kay. While it was only considered among non-luxury brands, the French line actually performed well against luxury brands, too, including Clinique, Lancome, and Elizabeth Arden. It received good scores for having the best ingredients, being nourishing and enhancing skin, and helping to maintaining a youthful appearance.

Product score/ideal rank: 96.67%
Ideal score: 138
Loyalty score: 142.75
Category: Hair conditioners
Parent company: Procter & Gamble (PG)

The Pantene shampoo line was created in 1947 by Swiss company Hoffman-LaRoche, which sold it to P&G in 1985. Today, it's the top-selling brand of hair products in the U.S. The most successful of its products is the Pantene Pro-V line. As of 2010, Pantene had 13.1% market share in the U.S., and currently has over 40% share in Asia. Those surveyed by Brand Keys rated Pantene's conditioners highly for fragrance, consistency, contribution to hair health, and generally using high-quality ingredients.

Product score/ideal rank: 97.01%
Ideal score: 134
Loyalty score: 130
Category: Retail store (price clubs)
Parent company: Costco Wholesale Corporation (COST)

According to the survey, expectations for price club retail stores are among the lowest of the 83 categories surveyed. But relative to those low bars, the three major brands do exceedingly well, with BJ's and Sam's Club scoring 122 and 125, respectively. Costco, though, beat them in multiple categories: range of products, number of locations, low fees, and being easy to navigate. The company, currently the biggest price club in the U.S., has been increasing its market share. It now has more than 500 locations globally, including more than 400 domestic locations.

Product score/ideal rank: 97.04%
Ideal score: 135
Loyalty score: 131
Category: Evening news show
Parent company: NBCUniversal

Since 2004, Brian William has anchored the NBC Nightly News, the most popular evening news show in the country. Williams has been so successful that in October 2011, he earned a prime time slot of his own -- a weekly show dubbed Rock Center. In Brand Keys' survey, NBC Nightly News beat out the competition in categories such as competent and appealing guests, an intelligent and well-regarded host, and a respected news brand.

Product score/ideal rank: 97.20%
Ideal score: 133.75
Loyalty score: 130
Category: Blu-ray player
Parent company: Samsung Group

Blu-ray video players emerged in the late 2000s, and beat HD-DVD to become the high-definition format of choice. Now, laptops are being manufactured with the drives as well. Korean consumer electronics manufacturer Samsung's offerings in this category beat out those of competitors LG, Sony, and Panasonic for brand loyalty. Consumers surveyed rated Samsung's Blu-ray players as having crisp picture and sound, quick connectivity, and uninterrupted viewing. Respondents also considered Samsung in general to be a highly-respected brand.

Product score/ideal rank: 97.38%
Ideal score: 133.5
Loyalty score: 130
Category: Beer (light)
Parent company: The Boston Beer Company

Proof that you don't have to be among the biggest to be among the best: Sam Adams has a quite small market share compared to the top-selling brands in the light beer arena -- less than 2% in 2010, according to Beverage Industry Magazine. At least six other light beers are more widely consumed. However, according to the Brand Keys survey, those who drink it have a lot of good things to say about the Massachusetts brew. According to respondents, the Sam Adams Light rates highly as being suitable for drinking in different times and places, for being easy to drink and well made, and for having an "invigorating taste."

Product score/ideal rank: 98.85%
Ideal score: 151.75
Loyalty score: 150
Category: Major league gaming
Parent company: Activision Blizzard (ATVI)

The Call of Duty video game franchise has released eight separate, highly successful titles, and three of the most successful were the Modern Warfare series, the first of which was released as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007. Since then, three sequels have come out, each more successful than its predecessor, and all receiving critical acclaim. In the first 24 hours after it went on sale, Modern Warfare 3 sold more than 6.5 million copies, making it the biggest entertainment product launch of all time. Those surveyed ranked the game substantially higher than other popular, long-standing franchises, including World of Warcraft, Halo, and Madden. Games were rated based on metrics such as whether they builds skills, keep people connected, and have an engaging premise.

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- Michael B. Sauter, Ashley C. Allen



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