In-N-Out (Dining) – 109.9
Finalists: BJ’s, Baja Fresh
Costco (General Retail) –107.7
Finalists: Trader Joe’s, Target
CHOC Children’s (Health) –106.2
Finalists: UCI Medical Center, Kaiser
AAA Auto Club of Southern California(Consumer Professional Services) – 104.4
Finalists: Chase Bank, Wells Fargo
Apple (Technology) – 103.4
Finalists: Verizon, Microsoft
Knott’s Berry Farm(Entertainment/Hospitality)– 102.9
Finalists: Disneyland, Angel Stadium
Toyota (Automotive) – 101.0
Finalists: Ford, Lexus
The Salvation Army(Nonprofit) – 99.5
Finalists: Goodwill, YMCA
Vans (Apparel) – 99.3
Finalists: Oakley, Quiksilver
Vans (Skateboard shoes and apparel) is top ranked brand in the OC.
Cal State Fullerton(Education) – 98.1
Finalists: Chapman, UC Irvine
Sources: The Values Institute at DGWB, CSUF Center for Brand Values Communication and Research
The trust between company and consumer isn’t a business factor that shows up on the corporate balance sheet.
But numerous successful operations serving Orange County show that building brand loyalty creates an asset that pays long-running dividends.
The 2014 winners of the Orange County Most Trusted Brands awards have been announced – and in many categories the honorees are sort of no-brainers. That’s because these companies are the ones you enjoy doing business with.
“This is not brain surgery,” says Mike Weisman, co-founder of the DGWB marketing firm and visionary for these awards. “But you’d be surprised how many CEOs have to be convinced that when people love you, that is your currency. That relationship trumps your product genius.”
This is the fifth year of these awards – a co-production of DGWB, Cal State Fullerton and OC Metro magazine – targeting brands based in Orange County, or operating within O.C. with a large consumer presence. Winners are chosen from the results of consumer attitude surveys reviewing 235 brands.
What’s clear to Weisman in the past half-decade of contests is that several outfits are breaking away from the pack, notably the multiple-year winners: In-N-Out (four times); CHOC Children’s and the Automobile Club of Southern California (three times); Cal State Fullerton, Apple, Vans and Costco (twice.)
This year’s first-time winners were Knott’s Berry Farm, Toyota and the Salvation Army.
Weisman singles out Wing Lam – co-founder of the Wahoo’s Fish Taco, who was awarded the Most Trusted Brands’ manager of the year honors – as a prime example of who’s building brands the right way.
Many executives talk about building consumer relationship, Weisman says, but few act upon that banter, and almost nobody works community building like Lam.
“His chain takes a longer-term view,” says Weisman, noting Wahoo’s high level of spending on community and charity relationships. “It isn’t about what Wahoo’s can get out of you today.”
It’s not just feel-good activities. Consumer relationships are real moneymaking stuff. Weisman says it’s both “no-duh” work but also exceedingly rare.
Brands that draw trust have top executives who know that nurturing consumer relationships is more than simple lip service or placards with the company mantra on the workplace walls, Weisman says. It’s everything from how customers are greeted to how a company handles a big mistake.
He speaks of award winner In-N-Out where the burger-only chain is “literally governed by their relationship with their customers. They want the chain to keep it simple.”
Trustworthy brands empower middle managers and front-line employees to be problem-solvers for their customers, Weisman says. Award-winning Costco is a great example with its “no questions” returns policy.
Such consumer friendliness can be feared as an added expense, for example, with an increase in product returns, comped meals or other services.
But the consumer loyalty such friendly treatments can build is what Weisman sees as an unappreciated corporate asset.
Trusted brands focus on what Weisman calls “return on relationships” – the inherent value of the company-consumer interactions – rather than “return on investment” or “how much can I sell.”
“Return on relationship – you have to earn that. It’s earned, not given,” Weisman says. “You have to care about people. That’s very simple. But we forget. It’s a shame.”
Weisman speaks of key elements his firm measures for the contest and clients, connection and candor, as lost arts. That can hurt, Weisman says, because truly consumer-centric brands are a great marketplace match for today’s shoppers, who may be willing to spend a bit more for the right product or service.
“People are back to demanding the relationships. ‘Show me you care,’ not just that you can give me a product,” Weisman says. He cites award-winning CHOC as a hospital that’s successfully courted customer relationships in a highly competitive medical-service industry.
In this stressful, time-stressed world, people will tend to turn to trusted brands. Why? As Weisman put it: “People are just too damn busy to sort through all of it.”