Trusted Brands: 5 Questions With Lee Zellweger, Reader’s Digest

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Reader’s Digest, a Trusted Media Brands, Inc. company, has announced the results of its third annual Trusted Brand® Survey in the US, which asked more than 5,500 Americans which brands they trust most in 40 product categories including travel, automotive, and food and beverage. Key takeaways from the survey indicate trust is more vital than ever in ensuring brand loyalty from consumers, particularly millennials—and skepticism is still running high, so brands need to listen and engage more than ever.

From most trusted airline (Southwest) to yogurt (Yoplait), the 2017 Most Trusted Brands survey inspired Reader’s Digest editors to come up with the Trusted League, assigning tongue-in-cheek superhero names and personas to the brands. So McDonald’s (most trusted in Fast Food/Casual Dining) is rewarded with the moniker of “The Satisfryer” (origin: “The gifted progeny of a fry cook and a warlock (they met at Burning Man — don’t ask”) while Walmart is dubbed “The Evaluator” (super power: “With her magical monocle and wizened eye, The Evaluator sees the true value in everything — products, services and even people”), and so on.

Reader's Digest Most Trusted Brands 2017 US seal logoThis year, Reader’s Digest also examined consumer sentiment toward the “Reader’s Digest Trusted Brand” seal of approval—awarded to the most trusted brand winners. Almost half (49 percent) of the respondents said they’re more likely to purchase a brand’s products or services if they see the Reader’s Digest seal. More than half of participants responded that the seal would increase their likelihood of trusting a brand. The number of winners incorporating the seal into their advertising campaigns has increased fourfold since the program’s inception in 2015.

Other highlights of the latest US research (there are also local versions for Canada, Asia, Germany, Australia) include:
• Trust outweighs product pricing. Seventy percent of participants said they would pay more money to support a trusted brand.
• Trust ensures customer retention and brand loyalty. Eighty percent said they tend to stick to the same brands they trust the most.
• Sixty-seven percent agreed that “if a brand lets me down once, it’s hard for me to trust it enough to continue to buy it.”
• Millennials are more likely to engage with brands they trust. Millennials are more likely to experiment with new brands and remember ads from trusted brands.
• Millennials are highly responsive to brands that engage, with 71 percent reporting they trust brands that value their contribution and feedback.

For more insights we spoke with Reader’s Digest publisher Lee Zellweger.

brandchannel: To begin, Lee, how is Reader’s Digest defining “trust” in this survey?

Lee Zellweger - Readers's Digest publisherLee Zellweger: In our study, we let the consumer define “trust” on their own terms. We simply ask them to tell us “your most trusted brand” across 40 categories. We further explain that “a most trusted brand may not necessarily mean it’s a brand you use or purchase most often.”

bc: In an age of mistrust, are you seeing an evolution in how consumers trust brands, or are they still for the most part skeptical?

LZ: Consumer trust is more important and more difficult to retain, now more than ever. Based on our research and other studies revolving around trust in brands or institutions, there is still a high level of skepticism, indicating consumer trust is low.

Within the Reader’s Digest Trusted Brand Survey, 49 percent of participants revealed they are less trusting of brands, in general, these days, which is up from 44 percent in the 2016 study. Sixty-seven percent of participants agreed, “if a brand lets me down once, it’s hard for me to trust it enough to continue to buy it.” It’s crucial for brands to recognize this challenge, address the issue and ultimately regain the trust of the consumer.

bc: What is the role of brand, and particularly “a trusted brand,” in terms of weathering a PR crisis, for example?

LZ: Brands who have built a long-lasting trustworthy relationship with its consumers, like the ones recognized by Reader’s Digest this year, are leaders within their industry. They understand the importance of keeping the consumer top-of-mind in all decision making. The same pertains to a crisis situation. A defining moment for a brand could be how they react to public opinion in a crisis situation. Brands who take the time to evaluate consumer feedback, address the issue head-on and provide a solution as quickly as possible will have the opportunity to salvage consumer trust.

bc: Any new categories or changes this year?

LZ: Within this year’s survey, we maintained the same 40 categories as 2016. A key differentiator in this year’s survey approach was the way we analyzed data from Reader’s Digest readers who responded versus the total U.S. sample. We found that Reader’s Digest readers are even more sensitive to brand trust and more loyal to brands that earn their trust.

bc: Have you measured how much trust consumers have in the Reader’s Digest brand itself?

LZ: While we didn’t measure trust in Reader’s Digest directly, we know from MRI research that Reader’s Digest is one of the most well-loved and best-read media brands.

In our study, we did find that 51 percent of Americans are more likely to trust a brand featuring the Reader’s Digest Trusted Brand seal. In addition, 49 percent of participants said they are more likely to purchase a brand’s product or service if associated with the seal. When surveying Reader’s Digest consumers, these numbers jumped to about 85 percent.

At Reader’s Digest, our 94-year history of providing trustworthy content to consumers and a well-lit, brand-safe environment for advertisers, provides an optimal place for brands.


Get more branding insights in our Q&A series. Suggest a Q&A: editor@brandchannel.com.

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