Humans love a good list. And research companies love putting them together. So, for the first time, Ipsos has put New Zealand brands under the spotlight of its Influence Index. And among the usual suspects from here and around the world, there were a couple of bolters, with the Department of Conservation and Consumer NZ featuring in the top 15.
Influence is a fairly subjective term and can mean different things to different people—or, in this case, brands. So it's tough to pin it down. But to decide on which companies made it into the upper echelons, Ipsos conducted an online survey of 1,000 adult residents of New Zealand. Each respondent was randomly allocated ten brands from a list of 100 brands that were chosen by Ipsos (this included 20-30 global brands) and asked to evaluate them over five key factors—leading edge, trustworthiness, engagement, citizenship and presence. While the five key sectors inform the influence index, Ipsos research director Jonathan Dodd says "there are a lot of questions asked" (57, to be exact) to get the numbers in the report.
"The key thing is that this measure isn’t any of the more common yet insubstantial ones that measure intangibles (trust, likelihood to recommend, familiarity, etc), which frequently have little to do with actual usage," says Dodd. "Our measure looks at the impact these brands have in our everyday lives ... It's about behaviour."
Or, as research director Nicola Legge says: "Influence is not as simple as one might believe. From the public’s perspective, there are many angles to influence that make it complex and multi-dimensional. In order for a brand to exert influence it needs to impact or change the way people shop, think, act or behave. It needs to become a fundamental part of life, shape consumer’s wants and needs and help consumers get through their day. In their own ways, many of the most influential brands change how consumers live life, encourage them to make better and smarter choices and help to make their lives that little bit more interesting. An influential brand is one that is truly important in the world today and even impacts the way people interact with each other. Influential brands are those that people can identify with, brands that have relevancy in the life of the consumer and have become a part of everyday language."
Just like Interbrand's best global brands, New Zealand's most influential list was heavily skewed towards tech and online brands, with Google, Facebook, TradeMe, Microsoft, YouTube and Apple taking the top six spots.
Not surprisingly, there was also plenty of love shown for the locals, with seven of the top 15 Kiwi brands. Here's what Ipsos said about them:
- Trade Me (3)– A trusted brand with a strong future; a brand that people have confidence in, is frequently used, recommended, and which is seen to understand people’s needs.
- Air New Zealand (7) – A trusted, recommended and iconic brand that inspires a sense of New Zealand pride, with a strong future.
- Dept of Conservation (8)- Represents desirable characteristics - is environmentally and socially responsible, actively caring about and supporting New Zealand communities.
- TVNZ (9) – A trusted, reliable, iconic brand people use today and expect to use in the future, giving a sense of New Zealand pride.
- The Warehouse (10) – Omnipresent, established, commonly used and advertising a lot.
- Consumer NZ (14) – Trusted, reliable, understanding of people’s needs and with a message worth hearing.
- Spark (15) — Is established, advertises a lot, is seen and used everywhere
Surveys like this always raise questions about the methodology. And in a story on stuff.co.nz, Otago University's head of marketing Robert Aitken said self-selecting brands to be ranked by respondents skewed the results and he "thought a measure of how well the brands met consumer standards was missing and there was an over-emphasis on the factor of familiarity".
When asked if choosing the New Zealand brands it deemed worthy of a place was an unscientific approach, Dodd says it's always going to be a quantitative decision and he says this type of methodology is par for the course because they need to ensure there is enough information on each brand, rather than a little information about a lot of brands as is often the way when respondents are left to choose their own. If that that was the case, he says it would be more likely that outliers would appear on the list.
"When we talk to a lot of people about brands they think logos, not the business represented by a logo." And that's why he says it asks a range of questions to try and figure out how brands impact on respondents' lives.
Some may see the Department of Conservation and Consumer NZ as outliers, but he says the five key factors had different weightings depending on the sector.
"This does not mean all the top brands had to be strong in the most influential factors, because a strong performance in a lot of mid-lower importance variables could still make up for a weak performance in some of the higher ones. That would explain why, for example, Google scored the best while not being known for environmental responsibility, yet DOC could get into the top 15 for being so far ahead on that one factor."
There's always a degree of comparing apples with oranges with these lists because brands play very different roles and have very different goals. Dodd says there's no point comparing Google with BP or Watties (although Ipsos did just that to come up with the top ten list), so it has complied lists for a range of sectors (although that's not foolproof either, because fuel retailers and car brands were placed in the same category and that decision could be questioned).
In the stuff.co.nz story FCB's David Thomason wondered why one of its clients Mitre 10 wasn't on the list of most influential retail brands given the profile the company has in a nation of DIYers. Dodd says 100 brands might seem like a lot, but there will always be a few that are missed out and the fact Mitre 10 or Bunnings wasn't included was because there were no hardware stores featured in the global list.
While studies like these tend to show people's reverence and love for brands, it could also be seen as corporate egocentrism; of brands inflating their importance in people's lives. As The Ad Contrarian wrote:
As I've said about a million times (and Prof. Byron Sharp has said much more articulately in his book, How Brands Grow), most of what we call "brand loyalty" is simply habit, convenience, mild satisfaction or easy availability.
I promise you, if Pepsi would disappear tomorrow, most Pepsi "loyalists" would switch over to Coke with very little psychological damage.
Nike devotees would throw on a pair of Adidas without having to enter rehab.
McDonald's faithfuls would cheerfully eat a Whopper without the need for counseling.
In fact, according to Havas Media, “in Europe and the US, people would not care if 92% of brands disappeared.” And, to be perfectly honest here, I would not care if Havas Media disappeared.
Dodd says it depends on how easy a brand is to replace and what other options are available. So while a clothing brand may be relatively interchangeable, the current reliance on tech ecosystems like Google and Apple makes that more difficult.
This survey was also conducted in 19 other countries with a total of over 33,000 respondents and Dodd says Ipsos conducts it as a thought leadership and PR initiative. He says it has already led to a number of meetings with clients who want to figure out what they need to do to improve.