Here are a couple of brand absolutes:

1. Loyalty is absolutely driven by emotion and
2. This year consumers are absolutely looking for emotional connections – more than ever before.

This year the list of top-50 Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders is made up of 8 categories. Cosmetics and moisturizers account for 30% of the brands; technology brands – primarily smart and cell phone brands – account for 26% of that list; and these two categories together account for nearly 60% of the brands with the most loyal customers.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Not when you consider that the ‘emotional engagement’ that women share with beauty brands is very powerful, and that there are few things consumers take more personally than the technology that keeps them connected.

Sixteen percent (16%) of the top-50 Loyalty Leaders represented retailers (bricks, clicks, and catalog), and 12% of the brands were alcoholic beverages, principally vodka, with only one beer brand in the top-50 ranking. On the other side of the bar, Dunkin Donuts and McDonald’s coffees were the only other beverage brands to make the top-50 loyalty rankings.

Of the 501 brands in 70 categories on this year’s list, here are the 10 brands with the most loyal customers:

1. Apple iPhone
2. Samsung cell phones
3. Wal-Mart
4. Grey Goose
5. Apple Computers,
6. Hyundai
7. Amazon
8. J. Crew
9. Blackberry
10. Avis.

Who had the greatest gains in loyalty this year? Progressive Insurance (+78), Avon (+53), and Domino’s Pizza (+38).

Who showed the greatest losses in loyalty: Palm (-407), Tylenol Allergy (-199), and BP (-326).

For the complete ranking of the 501 brands, click here.

Some brands have, of course, suffered loyalty losses because of the economy. But brands that understand how real emotional connections serve as a surrogate for added-value will create stronger loyalty bonds no matter what the economy is like.

The good news: Unlike economic use models, which rely heavily on historical data and profitability conjecture, the Brand Keys Loyalty Model and rankings are 100% consumer-driven; are predictive leading-indicators of corporate profitability; and are eminently understandable.

The better news: Real customer loyalty can be quantified and predicted. And in these economic times, knowing what’s making loyalty happen gives a brand an extraordinarily powerful advantage.