Trust - the next brand frontier

Trust offers potential value as a brand differentiator – not just for attracting customers but employees, too. David Martin analyses the latest CGA Peach BrandTrack findings and discovers there is everything to play for

UK consumers have an ever-widening array of available dining-out choice. It’s a familiar theme in our BrandTrack research, but typically the average out-of-home diner now is aware of almost 30 brands, will consider using 13 of those, and will have used six in the past six months. 

Those six brands competed for typically about 30 eating-out occasions during that half-year period. But securing a share of those available visits through the creation of brand preference is only the start. Then it’s all about retaining customers—by becoming trusted. 

It’s not difficult to find corporate claims to be “one of Britain’s most trusted brands”—they are ten a penny. But that has to be set against a context of damaged consumer trust in the integrity of commercial organisations, in part from the fallout from the financial crisis. 

This creates competitive opportunity, because as prevailing trust levels decline, its potential value as a brand differentiator is raised, not only in terms of attracting consumers but also, importantly, in attracting employees—especially for a rapidly expanding branded dining market during an era of relatively low unemployment. 

Intentions and credibility
Marketing magazine columnist Helen Edwards recently described the two fundamental but discrete ingredients of trust as intentions and credibility, broadly the difference between how you act and what you do. She noted that it is perfectly possible, like Amazon, to be perceived to be poor at the former and great at the latter. 

The rare combination of being highly regarded for both these traits, however, is what drives British consumers’ faith in John Lewis, commonly cited in surveys as the nation’s most trusted retailer. For example, it was the best-rated retailer in the 2014 KPMG-Nunwood UK customer experience excellence report—and that report’s top 20 included no eating-out brands. 

But this is no unattainable goal for foodservice operators, because similar recent research in Canada named coffee brand Tim Horton’s as the country’s most trusted brand, leading on qualities such as consistency, reliability, honesty and care, as well as on community and social issues. 

So what’s the evidence on trust for the UK’s out-of-home food and drink brands? Using data from our BrandTrack survey, we see two key high-level findings: 

* trust has really yet to be established across the out-of- home market; 

* the sector has no equivalent to John Lewis – no single stand- out trusted brand. 

In other words, it is all to play for. 

How much trust? 
Taking these two key issues in turn, firstly, what’s the status of trust in the market? On average, fewer than one in three customers of all the brands we measure agrees “it’s a brand I trust.” But this is not to say that the remainder actively distrust the brands they use, just that they remain to be convinced and converted—and that’s the opportunity. 

Drilling down into the major market segments, we find that on average, the proportion of brand users in each segment who agree “it’s a brand I trust” varies relatively little, ranging from 35% collectively for pub restaurant brands to 27% for high street brands, although the variance is greatest among the high street brands. 

Such relatively modest levels of brand trust surely puts many brand customers at risk of defection to competitors—not least because we see a clear link between brand trust and the likelihood of revisiting. Three quarters of those who trust the brand say they are likely or very likely to return, but among the other brand users this revisit level drops below half, to 47%.

An even wider gap emerges in terms of brand recommendation, where 49% of users who also trust the brand give a nine or 10 recommendation rating (the brand promoters), compared with only 23% among other brand users. Put simply, establish brand trust and your customers are more than twice as likely to become advocates. 

Put differently, among brands’ customers we define as the loyal core (the most enthusiastic recommenders who are also the most likely to revisit), we find 51% say they trust the brand, compared with 31% among all brand users. 

No icon
What does individual brand data reveal? Our results show there is so far no “trust icon” in the market. The proportion of brands’ customers agreeing that “it’s a brand I trust” ranges from a low of 17%, to a maximum of only 45%. 

Only seven of the 59 brands covered in our most recent BrandTrack research break through 40% on this measure. For 16 brands, less than one in four of their customers agree “it’s a brand I trust.” 

Our top-10 most-trusted- brands list is a diverse group. It includes premium and value-led concepts, some of them drink- led, some of them food-focussed, many with large-scale and long- established UK estates, but not all of them—and it’s notable that no QSR brands feature in this top 10. 

What factors might explain these results?
Firstly, age makes a difference: across all brands we measure, older customers are more inclined to agree “it’s a brand I trust” than younger ones: 39% of customers aged at least 55 trust their chosen brands, compared with only 26% of those aged under 35. 

And sure enough, our top-10 most-trusted brands tend to have a more mature age profile: on average 36% of their customers are aged 55 and older—compared with 25% across all the other brands we measure. 

Trust clearly takes time to earn, and that could favour longer-established brands. We don’t ask BrandTrack survey respondents to say how long they have been using a brand—it’s not something they would accurately recall—but we can certainly suggest that established brands, especially those with relatively more mature customers, might be better placed than others in the brand-trust stakes. And this “history factor” also works against clear relationships at brand level with experience ratings, such as food quality, service or value. 

Secondly, while some brand traits show a weak association with brand trust—such as honesty, and cleanliness—there are other characteristics which have no apparent link, such as cool, exciting and fun, posing added challenges for the younger-orientated high street operators. 

Reliability and consistency are key
But there is one trait that links to trust more strongly than any other—reliability. On average, almost half the customers (48%) of these 10 most trusted brands agree these brands are reliable, compared with only 36% of users of the other brands we measure. 

However, it’s still only 48%, and this touches on an essential and challenging issue for out- of-home brands—the level of (in)consistency in the guest experience. It’s an all-too familiar feature in outlet-level customer standards measurement, between sites in the same brand, and often within the same site over time, and it puts the handbrake on brands’ ability to build trust with their customers. It doesn’t matter how good your brand intentions are if your credibility is undermined by inconsistency. 

With modest levels of brand trust in the market, it’s perhaps not surprising that when we ask out-of-home diners to rate the importance of various factors in determining their choice of venue, the stated importance of trust is somewhat secondary, coming 10th in a list of 17 factors. That puts it a long way behind fundamentals such as food quality, hygiene and food choice. It doesn’t even rank highly as a choice factor for the 10 most trusted brands, and neither does it appear to have a strong link with customers’ propensity to say “it’s a brand I trust”. 

The benefit
What is the commercial benefit of trust ultimately? What is it worth? We are not proposing that this is a causal relationship, due to the complexity of brand reputation, but the three brands with the best trust scores – Lloyds, Crown and Pizza Express—achieve a higher share of eating-out visits from customers who say “it’s a brand I trust”, compared with their other customers—an order of magnitude of about 30% higher. 

In our previous work looking at loyalty, we noted the value of creating brand allegiance, in a “low fidelity” consumer era, with brand loyalty in retreat. Fuller’s chief executive Simon Emeny echoed this at a recent industry conference saying trust “will be more important to us than loyalty” because “the customer is no longer loyal or habitual”. 

On the evidence of our BrandTrack data we wouldn’t argue, and starting from here, it is a long and open road ahead for brands to win customers’ trust. 

Inside track to a prize
Although, trust may not appear to be front-of-mind with consumers when they are choosing a brand, their actions suggest something different—that it is an important factor in becoming habitual users. No one is in the lead, so there is a prize waiting—and those that can crack the reliability and consistency issue will be on the inside track. 


The top ten most trusted brands
% of customers saying it’s a brand I trust
1 Lloyds No 1 45%
2 Pizza Express 43%
3 Crown Carveries 42%
4 Greggs 42%
5 Vintage Inns 41%
6 Loch Fyne 41%
7 Toby Carvery 41%
8 JD Wetherspoon 39%
9 Pizza Hut 39%
10 Harvester 39%

How CGA Peach BrandTrack rankings work
Every three months CGA Peach BrandTrack surveys about 5,000 GB adults who eat out—with the sample weighted to reflect the make-up and balance of the general population. Data from these tables comes from the most recent April 2015 round asking consumers a wide range of questions about their eating and drinking out habits and specifically their attitudes to the 60 most used brands in the sector. Questioning took place from 23 April to 1 May. Many leading brand owners already use the data to benchmark their performance against competitors. To discuss consultancy services, bespoke brand analyses or to obtain a full pack of key league tables contact Jamie Campbell at CGA Peach, email Jamie.campbell@cgapeach.co.uk.