What’s in a reputation: The Reputation Institute’s 2012 ratings
A month or so ago, I saw an article in Forbes (actually on Forbes) that ranked the 150 largest companies in the US, based on their reputations. The rankings were drawn from a survey run by something called the Reputation Institute, the world’s leading – we’ll take their word for it – reputation management consultancy.
Reputation Institute conducted an online study among 10,198 consumers. It measured consumers’ perceptions of those companies among the 150 largest in the U.S. that they were “somewhat” or “very” familiar with. Each company earned a “RepTrak Pulse” score of 0 to 100, representing an average measure of people’s feelings–or reputation–for a company. The scores were statistically derived from four emotional indicators: trust, esteem, admiration, and good feeling.
Now I’m as much a sucker as the next guy for Top Whatever lists, no matter how nonsensical, no matter how arbitrary, no matter how apples-and-oranges-y they are. Still, I find this list even more puzzling than most.
I get how the bottom dwellers got there. The 150th and 149th spots were held by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, respectively. Goldman at 148th is no surprise. And it’s not exactly a shocker to find Halliburton, BofA, Citigroup, AIG, News Corp, Exxon Mobil, and Altria (remember them – they were perhaps better known, cough-cough, as Philip Morris; but when you’ve got a reputation at stake, it’s sometimes best to bury the past) among the trailers.
And I guess it’s not surprising to find feel-good consumer companies on top: General Mills, Kraft, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s and Amazon. Four of these are old-time comfy-cozy brands, and Amazon may be an up-and-comer but they do make it so easy for us to buy so much fun stuff online, golly-gee, we like ‘em.
After collecting the online ratings:
Reputation Institute then analyzed what it calls the seven dimensions of corporate reputation. That’s where it found that perceptions of the enterprise (workplace, governance, citizenship, financial performance and leadership) trumped product perceptions (products and services plus innovation) in driving behaviors.
Silly me, but what does the average consumer actually know about workplace, governance, citizenship, financial performance and leadership at places like General Mills and Kraft that’s not tied to our product perceptions about Cheerios and Mac ‘n Cheese.
Maybe there are 10,198 consumers out there who follow Kelloggs closely enough that they understand its governance model. Unlike me, who just knows them for Special K and Frosted Mini-Wheats. Or who follow General Mills closely enough to understand that General Mills is more than just Lucky Charms:
The Minneapolis-based company, which thrives on great citizenship, leadership, governance and products, is perceived as being a good corporate citizen by improving the health of their cereals, [Reputation Institute’s Anthony] Johndrow said. “General Mills has focused heavily on citizenship and governance aspects of its business with recent acquisitions and expanding community support globally. They acquired Food Should Taste Good, a natural snack foods company, [and have an] initiative with Outnumber Hunger and Eat Better America.”
As Johnny Carson used to say, I did not know that.
But perhaps the 10,198 canny consumers who took part in the study did and were, thus, not just having an immediate reaction to their knowledge that General Mills means cereal, and cereal means Saturday mornings in PJ’s, watching cartoons and eating Cheerios with bananas and milk out of melmac bowls while sprawled on the den floor.
Or who like Johnson & Johnson a lot because it makes Band-aids and Baby Powder. Things that make us happy, even though we know that when you’re wearing a Band-aid you’ve gotten yourself a boo-boo. Why, one of my favorite Little Golden Books as a kid was “Dr. Dan, the Bandage Man,” which even came with a free Band-aid.
So you tell me why it takes 10,198 consumers and the Reputation Institute to tell me that J&J has a better reputation than Halliburton (think snarling Dick Cheney) and Exxon Mobil (think oil-soaked ducks).
Oh, the Reputation Institute knows this:
“We sometimes refer to reputation as the immediate feeling–that knee-jerk reaction–that people have about a company when they hear the company’s name,” said … Johndrow. “That feeling is based on both rational and emotional underlying causes, and influences how you act in support of that company as well as your purchasing decisions.”
I guess I’m just too darned intellectually lazy to delve in and see how this list really gets beyond the knee-jerk (cereal-good, banks-bad) and into the deep and meaningful stuff like corporate governance and citizenship (Halliburton-bad).
And then there are the numerical ratings themselves.
What does it really mean that General Mills is an 83 and Kellogg’s is a 79 (other than the obvious that Lucky Charms is more popular than Rice Krispies)?
That Coke (78.1) beats out Pepsi (77.6) in the reputation taste-test?
That Google (76.2) is more reputable than John Deere (76), which is more reputable than Berkshire Hathaway (75.8)? The green tractor is more reputable than Uncle Warren? I’ll have to google to see if that’s really true!
That Walt Disney (75.7) trumps TI (75.5) which trumps IBM (74.6)?
But, hey, the fact that Wal-Mart comes in 103rd place with a score of 63, doesn’t seem to stop people from shopping there. And their score does beat Halliburton 37.6 by a lot.
Not that I’m shopping at either.
Meanwhile, I’ll go back to scratching my head and wondering what the average consumer actually knows about Abbott Labs (41st place) and the Union Pacific Railroad (102nd) that I don’t.
Maybe that’s why the Reputation Institute didn’t ask me along…