The Trust Trap strikes again

Last week, we were treated to another one of those surveys, listing Britain’s most trusted brands.  This time, the top 3 positions were held by the AA, the Post Office and Boots.  All famous names, to be sure, and all companies full of integrity.  So no doubt we should congratulate them for this momentous achievement.  But perhaps our praise should be somewhat muted.

You see, all the empirical evidence suggests that trust alone is actually a pretty poor predictor of commercial success.  The truth is that trust is clearly necessary for success but not nearly sufficient.  In fact, I’ve long believed that placing too much emphasis on this metric can actually be positively unhelpful, as it can lull executives into a false sense of security, suggesting that everything is well when it is not.

A much more telling measure is “brand fame”.  As Les Binet and Peter Field noted in their seminal 2007 work for the IPA (“Marketing in the Era of Accountability”), this is “not the same as awareness: it is a perception of authority in the category rather than a state of knowledge”.  According to Binet and Field’s exhaustive analysis, brands which adopt “brand fame” as a key metric are significantly more likely to report very large effects on sales and market share than those who pursue other measures (including “trust”).

Many other studies point to the same conclusion: that brands succeed where they have energy, drive and salience.  While the specific terms used may differ from one report to another, these are all forward-looking, positive dynamic descriptors – not just the retrospective absence of a negative.

So while we applaud last week’s winners, perhaps we shouldn’t trust trust too much.

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