NEW YORK: What consumers expect from brands and what they believe these products actually provide rarely coincide and the gap isn't getting any smaller, according to a new study.

The 2016 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, compiled by consultancy Brand Keys on the basis of responses from 42,792 adults in the US, examined customer relationships with 635 brands in 72 categories.

In many of these categories, the rational factors for choosing a brand are now essentially "table stakes", explained Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys.

As such, emotional factors are fast becoming the differentiators of loyalty and engagement, he told MediaPost. And that is where is gap is widening.

While emotional expectations rose by an average of 18% across the 635 brands in the research, consumer perceptions of how well these brands were meeting their expectations in this area increased by an average of 7% to 8%.

There are also values or factors that drive engagement within categories and which can change from year to year: this year, the drivers changed in 64 of the 72 product and service categories included in the research.

For food and beverages, for example, Passikoff highlighted an expectation that brands should actually enhance well-being. "That's a step beyond expecting a brand to be healthy," he said.

A similar trend was evident in the casual restaurant category. Chipotle's well-documented troubles with E.coli meant it lost its top ranking here, to be replaced by Panera Bread, which has run the "Food As It Should Be" campaign to emphasise its avoidance of artificial ingredients.

Passikoff was confident that the Mexican restaurant chain would bounce back, however. "Chipotle has an exceptionally engaged and loyal customer base, so despite this crisis, I expect them to rebound within a year or so," he said.

Data sourced from Brand Keys, MediaPost; additional content by Warc staff