Surviving the Downturn: Building and Maintaining your Brands’ Reputation

Today’s consumer now struggles with weighing “value” in a product or service and “values” in what they want and expect from companies –according to a recent Harris Interactive poll.

 That should come as no surprise considering the bailouts, bonuses and bad business behavior that all combined to erode the overall reputation of corporate America to its worst standing in ten years. Technology remains the highest rated industry, but its reputation declined along with six other industries, with the Automotive industry reporting the greatest decrease ever.

Despite this free-fall in Corporate America’s image among consumers, Johnson & Johnson, Google, Sony, Coca-Cola, Kraft, and returning to the list of Most Visible Companies, amazon.com, all received RQ scores that categorize their reputations as “Excellent”. An RQ score of 80 and above is considered “Excellent”.

“While the overall reputation of Corporate America has never been worse in the eyes of the general public, greater understanding of and credit for working diligently to build and maintain a good reputation has never been stronger,” says Robert Fronk, Senior Vice President, Senior Consultant, Reputation Strategy at Harris Interactive. “The RQ study also validates that both corporate behavior and corporate communication play a major role in how a company is perceived.”  And, this theory is also reinforced by the following definition of a brand by Scott Bedbury in “A New Brand World” —

    ” A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly and the off-strategy. It is defined by your best product as well as your worst product.. It is defined by the accomplishments of your best employee…the mishaps of the worst hire you ever made…the music your customers hear when put on hold…the finely worded statement by the CEO..but also consumer comments overheard in the hallway or in an online community.  Brands are sponges for content, for images, for fleeting feelings.  They become psychological concepts held in the minds of the public, where they may stay forever.”

“The companies that achieved RQ scores that characterize their reputations as either good or excellent have a decidedly value or comfort basis in their businesses”, says Fronk of Harris Interactive. “While the reputations of many of these companies have been relatively stable over time, there is no doubt that in the current economic environment, these two characteristics only serve to reinforce a positive reputation.

The RQ surveys more than 25,000 American consumers in a two-step process, through online and telephone interviews, to first identify the 60 most visible companies and then to rank these companies based on their reputation in six different categories: Emotional Appeal, Products & Services, Social Responsibility, Vision & Leadership, Workplace Environment, and Financial Performance.

The top 10 companies on this year’s list in order of ranking include: 1) Johnson & Johnson; 2) Google; 3) Sony Corporation; 4) The Coca-Cola Company; 5) Kraft Foods; 6) amazon.com.; 7) Microsoft Corporation; 8) General Mills; 9) 3M Company; 10) Toyota Motor Corporation. For a full list of the top 60 companies and other findings visit: http://www.harrisinteractive.com/RQ.

The six areas that the RQ survey focuses on that influence reputation and consumer behavior include the following, along with the companies that scored highest in these categories:

• Social Responsibility – Whole Foods, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, Microsoft

• Emotional Appeal – Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, amazon.com, Sony, General Mills

• Financial Performance – Johnson & Johnson, Berkshire Hathaway, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Google

• Products & Services – Sony, Johnson & Johnson, 3M Company Google, Kraft

• Vision & Leadership – Berkshire Hathaway, Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, amazon.com

• Workplace Environment – Google, Johnson & Johnson, Sony, Microsoft, Kraft

In addition to Wal-Mart and Sony, other big gainers in 2008 included AT&T, Unilever, Royal Dutch Shell, and Nike. Each of these companies has confronted reputation issues in recent years and it would appear that their efforts to mitigate these issues and rebuild a positive reputation are beginning to bear results.

To review selected research from the Harris Interactive RQ survey, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com/RQ.

Hope this gives you some food for thought — Brian.

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