Consumer trust is the key for Brands rise and fall

Over the last five years, legions of Brand Equity readers have religiously tracked the ups and downs and swings in fortunes of various brands that have featured in the Most Trusted Brands survey. One year, one set of brands climbs up the rankings, displacing another set. The next year, the snakes-and-ladders routine sees more brands some new, some old coming into the list, replacing the previous year’s incumbents in a near-karmic cycle.

But what exactly do all these ups-and downs and changes in ranking really amount to? Do they merely signify small changes in consumer perception year on year? Or do they harbor larger trends that show how the consumers outlook on the relative importance of brands and even entire categories is changing? Brand Equity analyses the last five years data and pieces together some answers on the shifting role of brands and categories in the average Indian’s life.

The most obvious finding for marketers the most reassuring one is that trust is hard earned, but once it hass been earned, shaking its foundations is far from easy. The Top 10 list over the last five years shows that five brands (Colgate, Lux, Ponds, Dettol and Britannia) have figured in the list all five years, two (Tata Salt and Vicks) have featured four times, while Rin has been there three times. In fact, apart from Nokia and Lifebuoy and Bata in the past no brand has managed getting into the Top 10 list two times. Fair & Lovely, LIC, Close-up, Tata Tea and Surf have all appeared in the list just once, but never quite managed holding on to the hard won privilege.

This does not, however, mean that consumer trust is immutable. Rin, which was in the Top 10 in the 2004, 2005 and 2006 surveys (at No 8, No 3 and No 9, respectively), slipped to No 17 last year, and is at No 21 this year. And Bata has plummeted to No 43 this year, after occupying the No 9 and No 10 slots in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

Twelve brands (Colgate, Lux, Ponds, Pepsodent, Tata Salt, Britannia, Dettol, Lifebuoy, Vicks, Fair & Lovely, Closeup and Horlicks) have featured all five years, while two Parle and Rin make an appearance four times. In the Top 20 list, Nokia and Parle are two brands that have steadily gained, while LIC, Pepsi, Tata Tea and Zandu Balm have been in and out of the list.

It takes quite a bit of staying power to remain in the Top 20 list too, and some brands seem to be learning it the hard way. Rin, for instance, finds itself out of the Top 20 for the first time in five years. And Titan which was in the list in 2004, 2005 and 2006, but dropped to No 52 in 2007 is clearly finding it hard to bounce back, despite recovering well to settle at No 24 this year. Surf, for its part, dropped out of the list last year (to No 26), and this year the brand has receded even further (No 33).

In the Top 100 list, the steady gainers include Lehar Kurkure (No 166 in 2005 to No 61 this year), Tata Indicom (No 148 in 2005 to No 68 this year), LG Mobile, Sprite, Motorola (No 159 in 2005 to No 83 this year), Indian Oil (No 142 in 2005 to No 90 this year), Sunfeast (No 125 in 2006 to No 91 this year) and Samsung Mobile (No 137 in 2006 to No 92 this year). Sony Ericsson (No 188 in 2006 to No 104 this year) and Garnier (No 176 in 2006 to No 105 this year) are two other brands that have scaled ranks rapidly.

Overall, prominent brands featuring in the Top 100 (at one time or the other) that have slipped significantly include Crocin, Cinthol, Mortein, Amrutanjan, Lakme, Liril, Brooke Bond, Eveready, Hamam, Uncle Chips, Saffola, Tata Sumo, Boroline, Boost, Raymond, ICICI Bank, Vimal, Disprin, Maruti 800, Whisper, Haldiram’s , Lijjat, Timex, Liberty Shoes and Robin Blue.

The rise of younger, new-age brands and the attendant fall of many older, stuffier brands suggest consumers are, indeed, tiring of brands that are running on the momentum of legacy alone. Interestingly though, unlike the telecom brands, many of the tech-related consumer durables brands do not seem to have capitalized on the Indian consumers quest for new trust icons. But it is anybody’s guess what the Top 100 list would look like five years hence.