Membership organizations enjoy high levels of trust

The CAA, Mountain Equipment Co-op and Costco continue to dominate the annual Gustavson Brand Trust Index.

Canadians continue to place their trust in co-op and membership-based organizations, according to the University of Victoria’s fourth annual Gustavson Brand Trust Index.

After ranking as the second-most trusted brand in 2017, the Canadian Automobile Association took the number spot in 2018, followed by Mountain Equipment Co-Op, which was positioned first last year. Costco Wholesale rounded out the third spot for the second year in a row. (The complete list can be found at the bottom of this story.)

“There’s something particular about membership-based organizations that may give them an advantage in terms of building and sustaining trust with their customers,” says Saul Klein, dean of the Gustavson School of Business. To the extent that their members are also their customers, he says, these brands have a more direct relationship with consumers than other organizations. Co-ops, in particular, are naturally more aligned with the interests of their customers due to that joint ownership model, which also gives them an advantage.

“At the same time, I wouldn’t get too carried away with that argument,” says Klein, “because we see a lot of other organizations doing really well.”

While the top three companies on the index follow a membership model, the remaining seven do not.

The Gustavson index measures three different dimensions of trust: values-based trust, functional trust and relationship trust. Klein says co-ops, including the CAA and MEC, tend to index high on values-based trust, which takes into account things like how a company treats its employees, contributes to the community and respects the environment. On the other hand, Costco (ranked number 30 on values-based trust) ranks much higher when it comes to functional trust, determined by factors such as product value and innovation.

With respect to the three leading companies, trust across different consumer segments does not fluctuate “that dramatically,” according to Klein. “To be at the top, you really have to do well pretty much consistently across everything.”

In early March, MEC announced it would be dropping outdoor equipment brands owned by Vista Outdoor, which also manufactures guns, in response to a petition from its members following a mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February. While the announcement came after the data was collected for the Gustavson survey, Klein says the decision would likely only help build more trust for the brand, as it is “very much aligned with the interests of the members, who have a strong view.”

The annual survey uses a sample of more than 6,300 consumers in ranking a total of 299 companies and brands across 26 different industries.

The top 10 most trusted brands (with 2017 ranking):

1. Canadian Automobile Association/ CAA / BCAA / AMA (2)
2. MEC (1)
3. Costco Wholesale (3)
4. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts (4)
5. IKEA (5)
6. CBC / Radio Canada News (16)
7. Shoppers Drug Mart/Pharmaprix (13)
8. Home Depot (37)
9. Marriott Hotels (31)
10. WestJet (10)

Top ranked brands by category:

Appliances: Maytag
Automobile rental: Enterprise Rent-A-Car
Automotive: Toyota
Beer: Alexander Keith’s
Beverages: Canada Dry
Coffee/Tea: DavidsTea
Confectionery/snack foods: Lindt / Lindor
Dairy: Parmalat
Delivery services: FedEx
Electronics and AV equipment: Sony
Financial services: Interac
Food and drug retailers: Costco Wholesale
Gas stations: Petro-Canada
Hotels: Fairmont Hotels and Resorts
Household care: Tide
Insurance: Canadian Automobile Association
Media and entertainment: CBC/Radio-Canada
Packaged foods: President’s Choice
Personal and beauty care: Band-Aid
Restaurants/takeout: A&W
Retailers (other): MEC
Sportswear: Columbia Sportswear
Technology: Microsoft
Telecoms/cable: Fido
Transportation: WestJet
Travel: Expedia