Tuesday, August 23, 2016

2016 Back-to-School Consumer Spending Gets a D+


The 2016 back-to-School spending report card for households with school-age children (pre-school through 12th grade) indicates that parents do not plan to spend significantly more this year. Consumers signaled only a 3.9% increase, with an anticipated average spend of $675.00 (versus $650 in 2015), according to the 22nd annual survey conducted by Brand Keys (www.brandkeys.com), the New York-based brand loyalty and emotional engagement research consultancy.

When asked reasons for the small increase in anticipated back-to-school spending, nearly three quarters of respondents (73%) mentioned a feeling of “uncertainty,” “anxiety,” and “unpredictability,” with only 18% mentioning “the economy.”  When pressed to explain the causes of these feelings, consumers mentioned the upcoming Presidential elections (58%), income/wealth distribution (47%), crime and violence (44%), unemployment (30%), race relations (22%) and a general feeling of insecurity related to terrorism (19%). Apparently it’s not just consumer confidence in the economy, this year it’s a lot more than that.

Average anticipated spending in all major back-to-school categories – with the exception of the tech category, where the upgrade replacement cycle has kicked in, were generally unchanged versus last year:

Clothing:                                     $278.00  ( + 3%)
Shoes (athletic & dress)             $125.00  ( + 5%)
Supplies                                     $  92.00   ( + 2%)
Computers/Electronics/
Tablets/Smartphones:                $180.00   (+20%)
Books/Study Aids                       $  20.00   (–10%)
           
The survey included assessments from 7,580 households drawn from the nine U.S. Census regions. Interviews were collected by telephone and central location intercepts (to account for the surging number of cell-phone only households) over the period July 29th through August 12th 2016. The breakdown of “preferred” retail categories versus last year’s indicates an anticipated use of all retail platforms.

The biggest increases in the choice of where to buy appeared in Department Stores (+10%) and Office Supplies (+5%). Department stores have been battling the consumer shift to online with lots of deals. Catalogs were down again, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Consumer purchases have shifted from print to digital and online has been growing every year. It’s become the consumers’ shopping default mode with virtually every consumer interviewed (99%) indicating they were going to use online for back-to-school buying.

Online                                  99% (+  4%)
Discount Stores:                  98% (  –1%)
Department Stores:             65% (+10%)
Specialty Retailers              50% (  –5%)
Office Supply:                      40% (+  5%)
Catalogs                                7% (- 13%)

Top 10 Retailers and Etailers

This year, Brand Keys’ top 10 lists of the most popular retail brands includes Kohl’s, with Apple stores being pushed to #11. Walmart moved to the #1 spot ahead of Target (last year’s #1 retailer) and Macy’s fell from #3 to #5, reflecting ongoing difficulties the retailer has had over the past year. For e-tail brands, Apple.com is #3, reflecting the shift in shopping from traditional stores to digital. Sears.com replaced Nike.com in this year’s top 10.

The top-10 in each category were:

Retail                                     E-tail

1.       Walmart                                 Amazon.com
2.       Target                                    Walmart.com
3.       CVS/Walgreen’s                    Apple.com
4.       Best Buy                                Target.com
5.       Macy’s                                   Staples.com
6.       TJ Maxx                                 Macys.com
7.       Kohl’s                                     Bestbuy.com
8.       Sears                                     Gap.com
9.       Footlocker                             Sears.com
10.     Staples                                  Overstock.com

More than half (55%) of consumers indicated they had already stockpiled for the first day of school in pre-August shopping, up 18% over last year. Another 30% indicated they would wait for the annual ‘Summer Sales.’ The remaining 15% are waiting till the last minute. Retailers have spent nearly two decades teaching consumers they can get things cheaper or for better value if they wait a little longer, and when it comes to back-to-school buying, consumers have been fast learners.


Value, of course, isn’t just about pricing, it’s about brand differentiation, and brand engagement. And, this year, apparently, more fundamental issues. Retail brands that can emotionally engage consumers are seen as surrogates for added value and those will be the brands that benefit most. Consumers not only believe that, they behave that way in the marketplace. And these days, providing more than just low-lower-lowest prices is a fundamental lesson all back-to-school retailers will need to cram for if they hope to pass with flying colors. And see increased same-store sales.


Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: brandkeys.com. Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

The 7 Most Expensive Words in Business


Our third annual survey of 2016’s Most Innovative B2B Tech Brands found B2B consumers’ view of innovative tech brands currently focused on innovative companies able to increase marketing, business, and sales efficiency. That’s good news since the seven most expensive words in business are, “We have always done it that way!”

More and more B2B consumers are seeking innovative technological solutions to business and marketing issues, and in a more complex marketplace they’re looking for innovation from brands that are able to not only provide products and services, but that are seen to better meet customer expectations when it comes to technology. Those are the brands that become preferred providers, no matter how one chooses to classify them.

Top-20 Most Innovative B2B Tech Brands
This year 900 B2B consumers were asked – on an unaided basis ­– to name the companies and brands that they felt were leaders when it came to technological innovation, with the following top-20 results. Numbers in parentheses indicate movement up or down the list from last year. Bolded names indicate new B2B consumer mentions for 2016.
  1. Alphabet (+1)
  2. Apple (-1)
  3. Amazon (+1)
  4. IBM (-1)
  5. Siemens (+4)
  6. Facebook (--)
  7. GE (+5)
  8. Cisco (-1)
  9. LinkedIn (+2)
  10. Salesforce.com (new)
  11. Intel (-3)
  12. Samsung (-7)
  13. Square (+3)
  14. Slack (+3)
  15. SAP (-5)
  16. HubSpot (new)
  17. Mindbody (new)
  18. Equinix (new)
  19. Tesla (-1)
  20. Kickstarter (--)
The B2B consumer’s expectations for constant innovation, and the expansion of technological innovation making business more efficient accounts for the addition of the four new brands on this year’s list with each new brand providing B2B with the opportunity to grow and become more profitable. Those four new brands include:
  • Salesforce.com (#10): A customer relationship management cloud computing company.
  • HubSpot (#16): An inbound marketing and sales platform that helps companies attract visitors, convert leads, and close customers.
  • Mindbody (#17): A software leader for class- and appointment-based businesses.
  • Equinix (#18): A company that provides carrier-neutral data centers and Internet exchanges to enable interconnection.
GE and Siemens showed the biggest movement up the list and Samsung was the brand that moved down most. Four brands that weren’t mentioned by enough B2B consumers to make this year’s top-20 list included Dell, HP, Uber, and YouTube.

It’s clear that B2B consumer attitudes toward innovation have not only shifted dramatically. B2B consumers have come to see innovation and change as an opportunity to partner with innovative companies and create real synergy.

It was billionaire, Aristotle Onassis who recommended, “The secret of business is to know something that nobody else knows,” which is a great definition for innovation. One thing is clear, seven other words companies should remember when it comes to B2B innovation are: “It’s not business as usual any more!”


Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: brandkeys.com. Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Monday, August 01, 2016

The Half-Life of Innovation


The annual Brand Keys survey of consumer perceptions of 2016’s Most Innovative Consumer Tech Brands, found consumers’ expectations for innovation skyrocketed by 33%. The result of that increase? Six brands (30%) of the top-20 brands on are new to this year’s list, showing up as consumers’ tech innovation leaders for the first time.

Sure, it’s hard to conceive that there was a time when consumers feared technological innovation when they equated innovation and technology with a greater likelihood of something to go wrong. You know, breakdowns. Disappearing data. Screen freezes. The 21st century may not have delivered flying cars yet – although we have seen prototypes this year – but it is clearly meeting its potential in terms of providing products and services that better meet consumers’ tech innovation expectations.

Top-20 Most Innovative Tech Brands
This year 4,000 consumers were asked – on an unaided basis ­– to name companies and brands that they felt were leaders when it came to technological innovation, with the following top-20 results. Numbers in parentheses indicate movement up or down the list from last year. Bolded names indicate new consumer mentions for 2016.
  1. Google (+1) 
  2. Amazon (+2)
  3. Facebook (+4)
  4. Apple (-3)
  5. Samsung (-2)
  6. Netflix (--)
  7. HBO (-2)
  8. YouTube (+1)
  9. Airbnb (new)
  10. IBM (+2)
  11. Snapchat (new)
  12. Line (+8)
  13. Shutterfly (new)
  14. BuzzFeed (new)
  15. ClassPass (new)
  16. Intel (+3)
  17. theSkimm (new)
  18. Microsoft (-7)
  19. SoundCloud (-11)
  20. Tesla (-3)
The consumer’s expectation for constant innovation, and the expansion of technological innovation accounts for the addition of those six new brands on this year’s list. Each new brand stands for something that advances the category in which they compete, and adds real value for the consumers. Those six new brands include:

Airbnb (#9): The online marketplace allowing consumers to list and rent homes.
SnapChat (#11): A mobile messaging app used to share photos, videos, and drawings, with their newest addition of the “face swap.”
Shutterfly (#13): Internet-based image publishing company. Its flagship product is their photo book line.
BuzzFeed (#14): A social news and entertainment company with sharable videos, news, and entertainment.
ClassPass (#15): A no-contract, plan-customizable fitness company.
theSkimm (#17): An email-based news delivery service.

The biggest movement up the list was seen for Line, the app for instant communication on electronic devices, up from #20 to #12 this year, and Facebook, up from #7 to #4 in 2016. Companies that moved down the innovation list included SoundCloud, the online audio distribution platform, down 11 spots to #19, and Microsoft, down 7 places to #18.

There were also brands and tech companies that weren’t mentioned by enough consumers to make this year’s top-20 list. With such high consumer expectations noted companies like Uber, that were considered “innovative” spawned enough me-to competitors to make them seem less innovative, or companies that have been around for a while, like LinkedIn, have come to feel “conventional,” and that erodes the perception of innovation. The six brands that did not show up on this year’s list were Hulu, Kickstarter, LinkedIn, Slack, Square, and Uber.

What’s clear is that consumers have come to see innovation and change as an opportunity – not a threat, and clearly something they expect in the brands they’re going to engage with. What’s also clear is what consumers consider “innovation” takes a variety of forms these days. “Creativity” like HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ is seen to be innovation. Certainly new forms of social outreach and connectivity are being seen as innovation. And new marketing paradigms for traditional products – like ClassPass or theSkimm – resonate with the innovation consumers crave.

From a marketing perspective innovation is change that increases emotional engagement and unlocks consumer value, so it’s something brands must constantly focus on. If nothing else, the changes on this year’s list are proving that brand-innovation half-life is getting shorter and shorter.


Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: brandkeys.com. Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

America's Favorite Beer


Writer Charles Farrar Browne, aka Artemus Ward, noted, “We all can’t be Washingtons, but we can all be patriots.” When he wrote that he was, of course, talking about people – not products. But certain brands think it’s a philosophy worth leveraging, and sometimes it is.

Some are very successful at it because they have an authentic foundation for making a claim to patriotism. Think “Jeep” or “Coca-Cola.” Others – and there are lots of them – think they can just wrap themselves in the flag and that will do it! The less successful of them, the unsubtle ones, are enough to drive you to drink! Maybe a beer would help. Or a number of beers.

There are lots of beers out there. That includes Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois and 200 other brands, aka Belgium-based, mega-brewer InBev. They haven’t been doing so well when it comes to their Budweiser brand, and we’d have to agree.

According to our 2016 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index – and many prior Loyalty & Engagement Indices – Budweiser rates pretty low on people’s lists and on the bottom of ours.  Of the major beer brands Sam Adams (one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and an actual brewery owner) is #1, with current rankings as follows:
  1. Sam Adams
  2. Coors
  3. Corona
  4. Dos Equis
  5. Busch
  6. Miller
  7. Stella Artois
  8. Michelob
  9. Heineken
  10. Budweiser

Of the critical drivers of beer loyalty that are responsible for these consumer engagement levels, we can confidently tell you that a craft-like image and credible authenticity are not at the bottom of the list. They’re waaay at the top.

But Budweiser is at the bottom of the list. When it comes to Regular beers and Light beers (where it ranks 8th, after Amstel and Michelob). So Budweiser, aka Anheuser-Busch, unable to meet the high expectations beer drinkers hold for craft-like beers and a sense of authenticity, initiated a re-branding program. They’re replacing the Budweiser logo with the name “America” on its 12-ounce cans and bottles, which still doesn’t make it the best beer in America.

The reason they’re doing that? Well, according to Ricardo Marques, Budweiser VP, "We are embarking on what should be the most patriotic summer that this generation has ever seen,” which sounds good but raises questions: “What generation?” and “Why would anyone who wasn’t actually drunk believe that?” Oh, and “Are you so desperate that you’d throw away billions already invested in the brand – even one at the bottom of the list – and confuse shoppers just to try to co-opt the value of “patriotism”?

A partial answer to those questions is the name change – besides concealing and/or camouflaging the true origin and source of an apparently less-than-loved brew – is, according to Budweiser, aka InBev, “to inspire drinkers to celebrate America and Budweiser's shared values of freedom and authenticity.” You can believe that or not! Maybe 2 or 9 beers would help.

Note to InBev: Leveraging the value of “patriotism” may have sounded good at the pitch meeting and probably made you feel all warm inside, but Budweiser hasn’t shown up on our annual “Most Patriotic Brands” list for years now. Even back when a foreign company didn’t own you. No matter how you many flags, eagles, and slogans, you slap on the can, saying it and actually being it are two, entirely different things. That’s especially true about emotional values like “Patriotism.” Oh, which is why Sam Adams is at the top of the list. Just saying.

The cans of “patriotic” brew were introduced on May 23rd and will be available through the November election. Coincidence? You be the judge.

On another nationalism front, Donald Trump took credit for the beer’s rebranding. When asked by Fox and Friends if he thought his slogan “Make America Great Again” inspired the name change, Mr. Trump replied, “I think so, they’re so impressed with what our country will become that they decided to do this before the fact.” As one of the few, successful Human Brands, we think Mr. Trump should have ducked that one.

But make of all that what you will. And the name change. We suspect Budweiser, we mean, America, would do anything that will get consumers to stand up and salute. Funny, that sounds a lot like this year’s presidential candidates too.



Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: brandkeys.com. Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.