Britain’s most trusted brands

The results of this year’s Reader’s Digest Trusted Brands survey are in, showing which brands keep the customers flocking back, which turn them off, and what qualities about a brand engender consumer trust

Trust, in one form or another, lies behind every purchase decision that consumers make. In recognition of this, Reader’s Digest undertakes its annual survey of consumers to establish Britain’s Most Trusted Brands. The 2008 results are just in, with some notable findings.

A number of consistently successful brands have made it to the top of their category once again this year. Nurofen, Lloyds TSB, Thomson Holidays, Hotpoint, Nokia, Persil and Colgate can now all boast of having won in every one of the eight years of the survey, a testament to the power of a well-established, well-managed consumer brand.

Tesco once again wins both food retailer and petrol retailer categories, and takes slices of the vote in another 17 categories besides, and in so doing cements its position as the most widely-represented brand in the survey. Cadbury dominates the chocolate/confectionery category, demonstrating that the 2006 health scare is well behind it – testament to the fact that brand health is determined much more by positive customer experience than negative media attention.

In other categories there are new winners. After seven years Avis has deposed Hertz in the car hire category, while in haircare Head & Shoulders take first place from Pantene. In credit cards the to-and-fro between Visa and Barclaycard swings back this year in favour of Barclaycard. That these two brands work in tandem is irrelevant – a key strength of the Trusted Brands survey is that it measures the way consumers perceive brands in the market, as opposed to how brand owners intend them to be perceived.

Differences of perception

The case of Esso demonstrates this clearly. The petrol retailer category has remained in a relatively steady state since its first inclusion in the survey in 2002, the exceptions being Tesco and Esso, which have seen rise and decline respectively in their share of the trust vote, in roughly equivalent measure. Perhaps the two brands’ widespread sharing of adjacent retail spaces is resulting in many consumers assuming they’re purchasing their fuel from the retailer itself rather than the oil company it partners with.

Another notable winner this year is Virgin Media, new kid on the block in the evolving ISP category. Replacing the NTL and Telewest brands in February last year, it inherited some long-established reputations for inadequate customer service, yet the brand has demonstrated the power of its substantial equity to take a quarter share of the vote, and the top spot from BT in the process.

As a counterpoint to the Virgin Media story, AOL’s stock has fallen significantly since winning the ISP category in 2006. Prudential, in the insurance category, and Olay in cosmetics are other ex-category winners now seemingly in long-term decline, while the aforementioned Esso, winner in the petrol retailer category in 2005 with a 20% share of the vote, now trails in fifth place having seen its stake fall by two-thirds.

The reasons behind decline in brand trust can be many and various; indeed trust differs markedly from category to category. As an issue it is ever-present, but the trust you have in your breakfast cereal takes a very different shape from that which you place in your preferred airline. This year Reader’s Digest undertook correlation analysis to shed light on just what factors drive trust in the category winners, and how these factors differ from brand to brand.

There are of course some must-haves: the perception of high quality – be it in a beauty product, a car, or your energy supply – is a significant driver of trust for all of the winners. Understanding what your customers want – or at least being seen to – is also crucial across the board. Other factors are vital to some brands but less so to others. A sense of humour, environmental consciousness, strength of heritage, low prices, and even differentiation from the competition all fall into this category.

For example Dell, Specsavers and Halifax can all be said to have taken up unique positions within their sectors by adopting strong campaigns which, crucially, are nothing like those of their competitors. The direct approach of Dell, the humanity of Halifax’s Howard and friends, and the good honest humour of Specsavers’ campaigns have all resulted in a perceived differentiation that is having an enormous impact on consumer trust.

The care card

The research shows that Nivea, Beechams and Seven Seas, on the other hand, have less to gain from differentiation; these brands are wiser to focus more on messages of quality and care.

As far as generating trust is concerned, humour is also best avoided in the health and beauty sector – communicating a sense of fun would have minimal impact on consumer trust for Nivea, Nurofen, Beechams, Boots or Colgate.

For others, humour could – and in some cases clearly does – impact positively on trust. Ford, Lloyds TSB and Specsavers all benefit from promoting a certain light-heartedness. And while consumers don’t on the whole perceive British Airways as a fun brand, the research indicates that it’s an aspect of its character that could give it a “trust boost” – an opportunity that BA would surely not want to turn down right now?

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Tom Fishburne is founder of Marketoon Studios. Follow his work at marketoonist.com or on Twitter @tomfishburne See more of the Marketoonist here

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