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Sears, Aeropostale Among America’s Least Engaging Brands

It may come as little surprise that brands on the brink are ranked among the world’s least engaging, but the more consumers stop caring about these brands, the closer they may come to closure.

In Brand Keys’ annual look at the Least Engaging Brands, among American consumers, four apparel retailers made the brand consultancy’s top 10 list—and all but one have filed for bankruptcy.

Emotional engagement, or how well a brand meets its customers’ expectations, is a leading indicator of both consumer loyalty and brand profitability.

Volkswagen topped the worst list with a 29 percent engagement ranking, no doubt due to its ongoing emissions cheating scandal.

American Apparel (which filed for bankruptcy in October) came third for least engaging, with a 38 percent ranking and Aeropostale (expected to file for bankruptcy this week) came fifth with a 41 percent ranking. Sears (very likely staring bankruptcy in the face) followed with a 42 percent ranking, with Sports Authority (which filed for bankruptcy in March) holding the ninth spot with 50 percent engagement strength.

“The fundamental reason these brands were rated so low for consumer engagement is because they were unable to meet the very high—and ever-growing—emotional expectations consumers bring to the marketplace,” Brand Keys president Robert Passikoff, said. “These are the critical values consumers use to compare brand options when they shop. If you do poorly, consumer displeasure not only shows up on the list but harshly in the real-world marketplace. And shortly thereafter on profit-loss statements.”

Sears is no stranger to the list, it ranked fifth in last year’s survey and even worse in 2014. But only two apparel retailer’s made last year’s list (the other was Abercrombie & Fitch, which only narrowly escaped this year’s list thanks to slowing down sales declines), signaling that apparel is suffering hard times in 2016.

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“Marketers don’t generally think about this kind of list on an aggregated basis,” Passikoff said. “But upon reading it, you can’t help nodding, while a small voice whispers, ‘Well, I can see that,’ or ‘Yeah, they really messed up.’ That’s the rational voice speaking. But we’re pretty sure your emotional voice, the one that ‘talks’ in your gut, will confirm that these brands really should be at the bottom of the list and are members of a club all their own.”

Brands that are better at meeting consumer expectations tend to be leaders in emotional engagement, which ultimately reflects in better sales and profit results.

“Think about how you’d feel if you bought a brand and it delivered only 39 percent of what you expected! What would that voice in your head or gut say then? Surely nothing good, and we’re pretty sure it’s not whispering! But sometimes—if you know which emotional values to empathize—rock bottom can be the perfect place to rebuild your brand,” Passikoff offered.