Britain’s most trusted brands

The results of this year’s Reader’s Digest Trusted Brands survey are in. Which brands provide the best and most consistent results and keep consumers flocking back? Read on: all will be revealed

Trust. It’s not something that is usually at the forefront of your mind when you are thinking about making a purchase decision. “Do I trust that brand?” “Do I trust that the product’s quality is going to be every bit as good as I expect?” Trust is a kind of a decision-making “crutch” we use so we don’t have to agonise over every purchase as if it were the first all over again.

At Reader’s Digest we’ve taken the idea of trust very seriously because we know that even though it may not be in the forefront of people’s minds, it is a critical component in making day-to-day life easier and stress free.

Since 2001, Reader’s Digest has surveyed customers in 15 European countries, asking who they trust most. Who, in their opinion, is the most trusted food retailer, analgesic or pain reliever and most trusted airline? All in all, assessing the most trusted brands in 38 categories.

But why should companies or brands care about whether consumers trust them? Because, it means their advertising and promotions will be able to work that much harder and more effectively. Gaining consumer trust can have great rewards, just as losing that trust can make things that much harder.

The majority of brands have done a great job of staying top of mind when it comes to who people most trust, but unfortunately, some have not. For instance, AOL, Britain’s most trusted internet service provider (ISP) for six consecutive years, fell to third place in the 2007 study behind BT and NTL.

Despite its attempts to spark debate with its “Discuss” campaign looking at the pros and cons of the internet and the freedoms/abuses it allows, which sought to position AOL as a consumer guardian online, the brand suffered after the ISP business was snapped up by Carphone Warehouse. It has endured a raft of departures among senior executives as well as a consumer backlash over poor customer service.

The 2007 study, conducted online in October 2006, of 1,900 Britain’s Reader’s Digest customers simply asks people to tell us which brand “deserves to be called your most trusted brand”. For each category respondents select as their most trusted brand, they also tell us how that brand rates on the four attributes of quality, excellent value, strong image and understanding customer needs.

Though not a predictor of which brand is Britain’s most trusted in each category, it provides an interesting insight into why people vote for a particular brand. For instance, BT’s ISP service rates very similar to AOL’s in all four categories among people who respectively voted BT or AOL as their most trusted brand, but more people voted BT as their most trusted ISP.

In other words, the people who say AOL is their most trusted brand feel very similar about their choice with regard to its perceived quality, value, image, and understanding of customer needs as BT voters did about that brand. There are just fewer people who feel that way about AOL, as they do for BT

Quality attribute
This year’s top scoring brand with regards to “quality” is Green & Blacks, the premium chocolate brand. This is the first year that the confectionery category has been included in the trusted brands survey, and though Green & Blacks won the quality attribute, Cadbury was voted the category’s most trusted brand by the greatest number of people, despite last year’s woes (just prior to this survey being conducted) when traces of salmonella were found in some products. This is a testament to consumer loyalty to the brand.

Premium quality products will rarely reach the kind of mass audience that would be necessary to capture the most trusted brand title. Cadbury scored a respectable 4.66 out of 5 among people who voted it their most trusted confectionery brand.

Value attribute
The winner of this years “excellent value” attribute is home-shopping vitamins and supplements provider, Healthspan. In fact, Healthspan appears in three of the four attribute top five lists (fourth place for quality, and second place for understanding customer needs). This following among consumers who rated it so highly in these three categories was not enough to displace the most trusted vitamin brand, Boots, which received the largest number of votes.

Boots, which also won this year’s most trusted cosmetics category, has a motto that puts it succinctly; “Trust Boots”, and UK consumers do trust it. Not surprisingly, Tesco captured three of the top five places in the value attribute; tea, household cleaner and soap powder.

Strong image
The winner of the “strong image” category is an iconic brand with a cult-like following, Apple. Though only a fraction of the size of the PC powerhouse, and category winner, Dell, Apple’s marketing has successfully established itself in peoples’ minds as having a unique brand image.

Runners-up BMW and Mercedes both also expend a lot of their marketing efforts on differentiating themselves and their products from rival automotive companies, which were rewarded with high strong image scores. The respondents also rewarded two iconic cereal brands, Shredded Wheat and Kellogg with top five spots in the strong image attribute.

Knowing customer
needs Finally, the winner of the “understanding customer needs” attribute is premium grocer, Waitrose. One of the innovators in understanding customer needs and wants, and then providing it in an easily accessible and user-friendly manner won our respondents vote. Air Emirates, Boots and Saga were also recognised by the respondents as being top in understanding customer needs.

Age, gender and trust?
Not surprisingly, younger and older, men and women, tend to have their differences in whom they trust. For instance, older respondents (65-plus) warm to the brands Typhoo Tea, and Vauxhall, whereas respondents under 35 prefer PG Tips and Ford. Younger respondents trust Clinique cosmetics whereas older prefer Boots. Women trust Kodak cameras, whereas men prefer Sony, and men trust Shell petrol whereas more women prefer Esso.

Though there are many brands the young or old may disagree upon, there are many where they agree they are trusted. For example, Cadbury, Colgate and Kellogg are equally trusted by both old and young. And men and women similarly both like Nescaf鬠Cadbury, Colgate and Nokia.

This similarity in which brands we most trust should come as no surprise. There are some brands that are without doubt marketed to males (Lynx) or to women (Avon), to younger customers (Egg credit card) or to older (Saga insurance), but for most people the brands they most trust are very similar. These top brands earned their status by consistently providing a good product or service to the greatest number of people.

Whom do you trust?
Beyond the brands we buy or recommend we also need to trust the various professional people we come into contact with. Though hopefully we don’t have to have too much need for the services of firefighters or pharmacists, it is important that we trust them so when our home catches fire, or we fall ill, we can believe they are going to do their job competently.

But, as you can imagine, not every profession engenders the same degree of trust. We trust our airline pilots, doctors, nurses, firefighters and pharmacists because they do an excellent job, and when we do, we literally trust them with our lives. We don’t often have the luxury of time to “shop around” for a firefighter or a pilot when we need one. You take what is given to you and trust that they are going to do their job correctly. Fortunately, the great majority of the time they do.

With other professions, such as financial advisers, lawyers or travel agents, we do have more of a choice who we choose to do business with, and sometimes the outcome of those interactions is less than we would have desired.

For other professions, car salesman and politicians, we have virtually no trust. Our trust in the various professions has not changed all that greatly over the past six years; police have regained the degree of trust we had in them in 2002, and politicians continue to let us down.

The brands we trust say a lot about who we are, and where we are. In a time of greater globalisation, some brands have not yet gained the trust of all of us in Europe. Some categories, such as banking or cold remedies, do not have a dominant most trusted brand across Europe. It is surprising that in the banking sector, which contains such names as Citibank, HSBC and Swiss UBS, that no single bank was most trusted in more than one country.

Although each country has a tendency to have a local favourite as their most trusted brand, there are two brands that seem able to cross these geographical boundaries. German brand Nivea, for example, was consumers’ most trusted skincare product in 15 countries, as was Nokia in the mobile handset category. With just two accomplishing this in the whole survey, it shows how far the others must come.

Michael M Cassidy, head of market research at Reader’s Digest Association, contributed to this week’s Trends Insight

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