Don’t shoot Howard just yet! I don’t always agree with Stuart Smith, but his leader in the April 24 issue suggests he is either clairvoyant or, more likely, really understands the power of trust. His column on the Halifax situation finished… “Howard and his all singing, all dancing colleagues have one more card to play. They have trust. They are friendly faces in an otherwise anonymous customer unfriendly environment”.
And in the 2008 Reader’s Digest survey of Britain’s Most Trusted Brands, Halifax has once again come out tops, winning the mortgage lender category outright from Abbey, and continuing to score well on the drivers of trust. Despite this the trends are not moving in the right direction for Halifax and change is needed – but what sort of change?
Reading some of the blogs on Howard’s possible demise, it struck me as comical to see one commentator advocating a machine gun approach, having just announced himself to be a long-term customer of Halifax with no suggested intention of moving his account. The survey results show that for most consumers the trust factor continues to outweigh the irritation factor. And given the UK public’s natural support of the underdog, could dropping the friendly – if irritating – face of Howard and his mates turn the slow drip decline into a torrent?
This strange dichotomy of consumer behaviour versus their brand experience was further borne out by a conversation I had recently regarding BA. A series of catastrophic disasters had not stopped the person in question booking to travel with BA again rather than with an alternative airline. Is the fundamental trust in BA so deep rooted that it can get away with anything? With flying, it might be that heritage is more important in the effort to maintain brand trust than the latest news reports.
These long-term winners in the trust stakes are unlikely to be usurped anytime soon but this is not so in other categories – see Virgin Media’s waltzing in and stealing the Most Trusted ISP award within a year of its launch. Virgin Media talks of the “Virgin brand effect”, but it’s not apparent just what BT is doing wrong. It scores well on all of the survey’s measures and nearly 50% of its voters have recommended it in the past year. Is the meteoric rise of Virgin Media a reflection that the brand has a new and apparently different offering? ISPs are now not a luxury but an everyday need and the latest might easily be seen as must-have. If that’s supported by a known and trusted brand name the halo effect kicks in quickly.
Then there are the brands that have simply worked hard to deliver on strategy and which have reaped rewards. According to Avis UK head of marketing Xavier Vallée, single-minded focus on delivering price and product through the right channels has led to the steady rise of the brand to take the 2008 award for Most Trusted car hire company. It has seen off Hertz, even though the company had been in a relatively safe position since the survey started in 2002. However the signs were there in 2007 when Avis scored higher among its voters for understanding customer needs, value and quality, and this year Avis also took the prize for strength image – alongside the overall voting prize. This was a sure, steady, straightforward approach to success.
Victoria Scott is publisher of Reader’s Digest UK