Winners and Losers in the Brand Stakes

27 March 2007 Thom Newton

Imagine if some of the UK's most recognised brands and organisations were guests at a dinner party, would they behave? Would they be interesting company? Would you invite them again?

Using a dinner party scenario, 1,400 people (aged 18-65 years) were asked how they thought some of the best-known brands and organisations would behave if they shared an evening with them.

So many branding surveys are full of jargon. We felt this scenario would enable us to probe key factors such as trust, reliability, responsiveness, customer relationships and appeal – the components that determine the reputation of an organisation – in a straightforward way.

For the survey, we chose only those business sectors that feature in the daily lives of British consumers: insurance / pensions, banks, telecoms, travel, transport, public sector and energy. Into the mix, we added citizens advice. We felt the organisation was an anomaly, there to advise you when you're in need. If citizens advice performed well in the survey, this would help validate its integrity.


Trust is at the heart of any brand promise, and yet nearly one-third of UK consumers distrust large organisations. We asked the participants if they lost their wallet would 'brand X' return it. While 58% thought they would have it returned, 27% said 'no they wouldn't' based on their perceived lack of confidence in the probity of the organisation. Energy providers record the lowest level of trust at an average of 42%. Thames Water recorded the lowest trust level of all.

In finance, travel and telecoms, consumer trust ratings are high (between 60% and 70%). But small things seem to tip the balance the wrong way. Barclays came bottom of its sector, the move to rename cash machines as 'holes in the wall' is perhaps symptomatic of its rather misjudged communication style – it is seemingly not how traditional high street banks should be talking to their customers and, correspondingly, customers find it a turn off.


70% of organisations provide a reliable service. At the fictional dinner party, seven out of ten guests would be prompt. At the other end of the spectrum, one in ten would not arrive. Again financial services is perceived as the most reliable industry, energy and public sectors as unreliable.

Nokia was perceived to be the most appealing guest. Thames Water plumbed further depths, being named as the one guest most likely to be a no show.

Thames Water is not in an enviable position. As a consumer, it's hard to reconcile burst pipes, hosepipe bans and poor customer service with higher-than-expected water bills.


Only slightly more than half of organisations treat consumers in a courteous manner. In almost a quarter of cases consumers feel they are shouted at. 22% of communications from the public sector are perceived as 'inaudible mumbling', and 26% of people feel shouted at by transport companies in particular.

"Relatively small improvements in communication terms can have a relatively big impact on consumer perceptions."

59% of consumers feel they are treated like adults, but 41% feel they are patronised or insulted by the organisation they deal with. 26% feel treated like an idiot by the public sector and 22% similarly by energy providers. The Home Office was rated as the least likely to treat consumers as adults.

In only a third of situations do consumers expect organisations to show real interest in issues that concern them. In a significant minority – 17% of organisations surveyed are perceived to show no interest at all. Insurance companies however, are dramatically better listeners than any other sectors. 47% of consumers believe they are genuinely interested in what they have to say compared to 35% of banks, 26% of transport and 23% of energy providers.

Energy companies really have work to do in this area. We asked consumers how they performed and an alarming 53% of people think that energy companies are more interested in 'smoothing over' problems than listening to customers' feedback.

We've saved the most 'brand-phobic' statistic to last. Namely, that only just over a third of consumers welcome an association with some of the most established companies in the UK. In just under half (48%) of cases consumers would be prepared to invite the organisation to our fictional party only to make up the numbers. In a little more than a third (36%) of cases they would welcome them with open arms. But in 16% of cases they'd rather cancel their party!


Our survey focused on the business sectors that feature in the daily lives of British consumers: insurance / pensions, banks, telecoms etc.

Insurance / pensions have the strongest positive pull. In our metrics of trust, reliability, responsiveness, customer relationship and appeal, it is only in the latter that this sector is weaker.

What struck as particularly telling (Churchill and Esure illustrate this) is that perhaps relatively small improvements in communication terms can have a relatively big impact on consumer perceptions.

So, banks, insurance companies and pension providers here is our advice: work on your appeal. Define where the 'moments of truth' exist for your brand. Ask yourself 'how well do you manage them?' And work out what the peaks and troughs are for your customers so you can work on weak areas, like brand appeal.

Trust is the weakest area affecting telecoms companies, with a negative pull equal to the perceived lack of reliability that exists among transport operators. The appeal of travel companies (and perhaps travel per se) makes the sector almost perform as well as our top sector, insurance / pensions.

"Nearly one-third of UK consumers distrust large organisations."

Transport and the public sector mirror each other closely in almost every respect, with the latter sector recording weaker scores across the matrices in all areas, making it and Energy the two sectors that have the most negative pulls.

Most of the brands in our survey were service brands, but those businesses that are either product focused, or combined service with product performed better – think of Nokia and Samsung.

It illustrates the challenge facing service brands and those charged with communicating them to customers – more to lose, less to win.