Time to trust a brand by its cover
A view from Sue Todd

Time to trust a brand by its cover

While marketers are clearly attracted by the allure of the shiny and the new, some key fundamentals are falling by the wayside, warns Magnetic's chief executive.

The topic of what constitutes the truth and our responsibility as an industry to build trust, has been on everyone’s lips this year and the conversation rightly shows no signs of abating. It doesn’t feel too dramatic to argue that it is the biggest issue we face as a community and wider society.

An independent global study released by Kantar last week highlighted the effect that "fake news" and the US presidential election had taken on trust in media, with the greatest toll unsurprisingly on Facebook. Pleasingly the top three most trusted sources for news were magazines in print; 24-hour broadcast news channels and radio news bulletins with upwards of two thirds of respondents citing these channels as the most trusted for news. 

In our own recent research A Matter of Trust, conducted by MediaCom. The BBC emerged as the most trusted brand we surveyed ahead of Amazon and John Lewis. Encouragingly for the magazine industry, two major magazine brands feature in the top 10: Good Housekeeping and the Radio Times.

Much of this is ultimately down to heritage and reputation earned over a long period of time. The BBC, Good Housekeeping and Radio Times are embedded in British consciousness as sustained and authoritative voices within their sectors – whether we’re watching the news, looking for a guide to Christmas TV or redecorating our homes.

Magnetic invested in this new research to deconstruct and better understand the drivers of trust and try to quantify the effect for commercial partner. So as well as explicit measures of trust, we explore more implicit associations through a "T score", providing a more nuanced assessment of the constituents of trust.   

The research uncovered that the most significant drivers of trust in brands and media were – relevancy and meaning, (31%, of respondents cited this as the key driver) reliability and ethics (27%) and expertise and objectivity (20%.). Transparency, viewpoint diversity, reputation and fame matter far less to consumers (9%, 8% and 5% citing them respectively). 

Magazine brands score highly on the key measures of reliability, ethics, meaning and experience. Our performance with consumers on the aspects that matter most is underpinned by the overall headline that 70% of respondents trust magazine media, as opposed to just 30% social media.

One of the speakers at Spark – our annual conference that took place in September – Ian Leslie (consultant and author of best-selling book Born Liars), asserted that "brands and the environments that they are in is under-studied". He explained that trust is largely determined by environment, and that trust levels are impacted more significantly by where we are, and who we’re with, than by who we are. 

Also speaking at Spark, Jon Goldstone cited research from his consultancy, The Brand Gym, that places trust in the context of a "doom loop" for brands in which poor brand health is becoming worse due to short-termism and lack of long-term vision. It asked 100 UK marketers if brand strategy is being overlooked. Some 62% agreed. And when asked for their key driver to use social media, 62% said, "to keep up with latest trends". Just 23% identified "tangible business impact".

A Matter of Trust now also shows what we’ve long suspected (and that good planners have long understood) that magazine brands deliver a significant "rub effect" on the perceptions of trust for the brands advertising within their environments and this is true of digital environments as well as print.  The increase in KPIs around trust for five brands including Tesco, Pearl Drops and ghd – whose campaigns were measured in this study – ranges from uplifts of 64% to 94%.

Our findings show that it’s the magazine brand not the platform that impacts perceptions of trust. Among the magazine advertisers included, spanning a range of sectors who shared common objectives around trust, saw significant uplifts in KPIs such as perceptions of brand expertise; how believable product claims were and how credible any endorsement of the brands were.

As the furore around trust in our industry rumbles on, the importance of context in advertising becomes increasingly evident. While marketers are clearly attracted by the allure of the shiny and the new, some key fundamentals are falling by the wayside. In a world where consumers are not sure what is real and what is ‘fake’, the brands using media environments that inspire trust, will ultimately benefit.

Sue Todd is the chief executive of Magnetic