Brexit, Bisto and the ingredients of brand trust

By Jon Young

Brexit and Bisto aren’t your classic headline bedfellows - not even when bemoaning the EU gravy train.  But when it comes to talking about brand trust, there are valid reasons to discuss them side by side.  I can say this with confidence, having recently completed a ZMET study to unpack what brand trust means to people.

Three key ingredients came out of the research – consistency over time, simplicity and authenticity.  Sound obvious? They did to us, but what was surprising was just how important these themes have become and how many organisations are falling short.

  1. Consistency over time:

When branding is consistent, the consumer needs to put only a small amount of effort into understanding a product when making a purchase choice.  If however, the branding is inconsistent, the consumer has to evaluate each time they make a brand choice.  Human beings have evolved as cognitive misers, so ‘effort’ in a purchasing decision is generally a bad thing. Inconsistency leads to an uncomfortable psychological reaction, cognitive dissonance, which is even worse.

Strong physical branding through imagery, logos, colours, tag-lines, and celebrities is key to brand consistency.  In our research, Premier Inn with its purple, Lenny Henry-endorsed ‘good night guarantee’ came out strongly in this area.

Participants were not so complimentary about other organisations, particularly when it came to consistency of purpose.  McDonalds received some negativity (despite its great physical branding) for promoting an eco-friendly image and ‘hiding the fact they are selling fast food.’  The need for consistency has implications for audience segmentations.  How many groups should be targeted without diluting a core message?

  1. Simplicity:

The importance of simple messaging ties in with numerous studies which show that consumers are far more likely to make a purchase when faced with just a few options.  It’s why so many of us fail to change banks or energy suppliers despite the financial benefits of doing so.

It’s important that, as well as being consistent, brands present their offer in a clear and simple way (it’s no good being consistently complicated!).  Brands failed in this area by providing cluttered websites, giving confusing messaging or overwhelming with information.

  1. Authenticity:

Authenticity (not lying or tricking people in plain English) was a unifying theme across our interviews. When brands failed on this criterion there tended to be a complete breakdown of brand trust.

Numerous bad practice examples were mentioned.  There were attractions promoting discount tickets but then hide that they can only be used on a rainy Tuesday evening in January.  Others fumed about airlines that had hit them with unexpected add-ons.

Brexit and Bisto

We finished our brand trust study just as the EU referendum hit full swing, so it was interesting to watch the proceedings through this lens.  I was struck by the efforts of Remain and Leave in trying to achieve brand trust, and how they used the ingredients we mentioned to do so.  Consistency was achieved through strong physical branding – logos, big buses and the pre-meditated repetition of taglines.  Polls after the vote showed that ‘taking back control’ was the biggest reason people voted leave, demonstrating that Michael Gove repeating the tagline 10 times per minute like a defunct Dr Who character was not as stupid as it seemed.

For simplicity, you need look no further than ‘the Brexit bus’ which, with its clear ‘cost-saving’ message gave people a tangible reason to trust the Leave campaign.  In contrast the Remain camp grappled with less tangible outcomes such as ‘the value of the single market’.

Michael Gove referencing his dad’s fishing business aside, the less said about authenticity the better.

You don’t need to look far to find the ingredients of brand trust in other sectors.  Bisto (yes, there is a link to the title!) is one that resonates quite strongly with me.  It has an extremely consistent brand (and texture – sorry) and its messaging is incredibly simple.  The ‘Ah! Bisto’ tagline and physical branding is prominent in my mind decades after it was aired on television.  Add to that the authenticity of its promotion – the family Sunday dinner – and I have a pretty irrational brand trust that puts it top of my mind when making a ready-made gravy purchase!

Whether it’s hotels, fast food chains, politicians or gravy manufacturers, our research highlighted how a lot of big companies are failing at brand trust.  It also told us that increasingly people are uneasy about putting their faith in them.  We hope that our suggestions will help reverse that trend.

We’d love to hear what other people think.  To read the Brand Trust in more detail or to find out more about our ZMET methodology, please get in touch!

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