There's few surprises in the latest list of Australia's most-trusted brands: Apple, Google and IKEA rate highly, while Qantas, Kodak and Dymocks aren't doing so well. That's interesting news for marketers, but consumers should remember a more fundamental lesson: just because you think a brand is trustworthy doesn't mean you shouldn't examine and question what it does.
Picture by Daniele Pieroni
Understandably, the latest assessment of brand value is attracting a lot of attention. The Brand Asset Valuator list uses consumer surveys to identify 12 brands as strong "brands of the future" for Australian consumers:
- Windows 7
Brands which are experiencing problems include Qantas (no surprise given its decision last year to strand customers so it could resolve an industrial dispute), Kodak (which is essentially broke), Dymocks (which is trying to make money with dubious self-publishing schemesand Mr Sheen (I'm guessing it needs a new TV campaign and to stop using aerosol delivery mechanisms). That list also demonstrates that brand values can be a murky concept. Microsoft produces Windows 7; eBay owns PayPal; Google owns YouTube.
Large companies spend millions of dollars on "brand strategy", and being a "trusted brand" is a cherished goal. One of the big advantages of being a "trusted" brand is that people will buy your product repeatedly and unquestioningly. That's very evident in such odd phenomena as people huddling outside an Apple store for a new phone when the same device is on sale elsewhere without a queue or paying twice as much for a name-brand product which isn't demonstrably different to a store-brand equivalent.
Brands earn that trust in two ways: by providing a good experience, and by bombarding you with marketing messages. Obviously, the first kind of branding is the only one that's actually relevant. But even if you've had favourable outcomes from a brand in the past, that doesn't mean that you will in the future. Making a purchase simply because you "trust the brand" won't always lead to a good outcome.
Trusted brands still release monumentally buggy products and do things which disadvantage consumers. I can easily think of examples for the main technology brands on that trusted list:
- Google's change to its privacy policies earlier this year attracted widespread condemnation.
- Apple's first attempt at offering push email services, MobileMe, was a bug-ridden disaster which it had to kill off.
- eBay's attempts to make PayPal the sole payment method saw it incur the wrath of the ACCC.
- Microsoft released Vista. Enough said.
If you genuinely want to save money and still buy quality products, you need to spend time researching what's actually available and how well it fits your needs. Past experience may be a factor, but you also need to allow for the possibility that the newest version isn't great. (Indeed, from that perspective, being an early adopter is often a bad idea. Products rarely hit the market in a highly-tested form these days. No-one knew the iPad's battery would end up being monumentally warm for some users because it was kept a secret virtually up to release.)
That takes effort, and many of us are frankly too lazy. We stick with the familiar because it seems like the easy choice. If that's what you do, you have no-one to blame but yourself if something goes wrong. Indeed, the only revenge you might get is complaining in a future brand survey.
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