Trust me, I’m a marketing man

Heinz and Sainsbury’s more saintly than the Church of England? Asda and Cadbury more trustworthy than the British bobby? Yes, these are the findings, among others, of a recent piece of Henley Centre research. They could be dismissed as comment on the declining standards of British public institutions. Except that the extremely high scores achieved by top brands, which also included Tesco, Coca-Cola, Boots, Kellogg, Rowntree and M&S, is so arresting it deserves further comment.

The Henley Centre’s own take on the findings is that there has been a quantum leap in the importance accorded to trust in the marketing of brands. If so, and there is no reason to doubt it, this development raises some interesting issues for the marketing director. We know that market share, as the traditional measure of brand potency, is an obsolescent concept. Retention of customer goodwill (as evidenced by customer loyalty programmes, the evolution of data-mining techniques and so forth) has taken pride of place over naked conquest.

What’s more, the increasing popularity of corporate campaigns among major advertisers (not least many which star in the Henley Centre survey) suggests that most have moved on to a more holistic interpretation of brand attributes and imagery.

And it’s easy to see why. If you successfully persuade consumers you are corporately trustworthy, the umbrella of goods and services you then can sell them is magically enhanced. Look no further than Richard Branson’s foray into financial services and in particular to the launch of his mould-breaking Virgin One product. The mortgage that’s a savings account that’s a personal loan that’s a credit card has, admittedly, to prove itself. But where is most of the criticism coming from? From the high street banks, which would find difficulty in aspiring to the level of public trust enjoyed by Virgin at the moment, let alone actually launching such an original product. Industry sectors which would benefit from similar trust management techniques are telecoms and utilities (although in fairness the rudiments can be seen in the likes of Orange and BG’s Goldfish brand).

Of course, the trouble with trust is that it can be abused, or at least lost. Damage inflicted on one brand or service within a company’s portfolio may have a disastrous domino-effect on both the corporate reputation and the rest of the company’s products. How fortunate for Lever Bros that it is not called Persil. How unfortunate for Prudential that its overall reputation is so closely allied with pension misselling.

Alan Mitchell, page24

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