The word iconic is terribly overused and often misapplied but for some reason it fits exactly when I think of the winner of this year’s Reader’s Digest’s annual Trusted Brands survey.  Ask any kid and they will tell you that one of their favourite things is chocolate, or sweets, or candy, or whatever you may want to call it. But kids grow up and some things stay with us for life, and I’d argue that a love of chocolate is one of them.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Whittaker’s Chocolate set a new benchmark of taking the top spot as most trusted brand, as well as the Iconic Brand category, for the ninth year in a row. But Whittaker’s success is also a reflection of its competitors failings, many of them sadly self inflicted.

Whittaker’s seemingly came from nowhere, until you remembered the brand that created established and much loved Kiwi favourites – the Peanut Slab, the Sante Bar, and the K Bar – continual destinations of most kids’ pocket money. Now, the confectionary section of supermarkets – as well as dairies, proudly display the formidable array of their chocolate varieties, and their capacity for creating dependable classics, as well as ingenious new concoctions that promote local New Zealand produce.

The company has focused on quality products, with ethically sourced ingredients that appeals to the palate, imagination, and memory. For instance – their  Milk Chocolate tastes eerily similar to how I remember their competitor’s – before that company diversified, messed with consumer expectations, and lost a legion of customers by closing down their new Zealand operation and shipping it across the Ditch. If you want to alienate loyal chocolate aficionados, then don’t take their product from locally manufactured to made overseas without thinking about the consequences.

So why would Kiwis ‘trust’ a chocolate brand? What does that brand say to them, how does it connect with them? As reported in Stuff this week, “University of Auckland senior marketing lecturer, Bodo Lang said the core of trust was the belief that the brand did what it said it would do. ‘It’s about having an expectation about the brand and the brand fulfils that,’ he said. ‘It has been easier for Whittaker’s to do this than other brands because the main competitor in its category has slid off the trusted radar. The contrast between them and their main competitor has really helped Whittaker’s. Whittaker’s brand also had an element of likability and confidence,’ he said.” (Source: “New Zealand’s most trusted brand hasn’t changed in a decade, survey says,” by Debrin Foxcroft, 27 April, www.stuff.co.nz).

Brand connection to consumers is the holy grail for businesses and Whittaker’s has achieved that fantastically by doing things simply, inventively, and consistently. Consumers are also motivated to buy local products, and especially products that align with a sense of a created national identity. Whittaker’s also has a heritage and a history.

The survey was completed by asking 1800 New Zealanders to list their most trusted brands across a number of categories. The businesses and organisations that made up the top ten were, Whittaker’s, Toyota, Samsung, Tip Top, St John NZ, Mainland, Dettol, Mitre 10, Anchor and Sony.