Forbes has released its annual list of the most and least reputable American companies in 2012, based on the opinions of 10,198 consumers and conducted by Reputation Institute.
The respondents scored their feelings about 150 of the largest U.S. companies in the areas of trust, esteem, admiration and good feeling. To see the entire list, check out the Forbes article about the survey.
There’s plenty of room for personal disagreement with the results. That’s to be expected with any survey, but especially one that focuses on emotional rather than rational perceptions about a brand. What does this have to do with accounting marketing, you ask? Other than being interesting reading, the overall ranking allows us to look at patterns of perception and learn what tends to boost the relationship between company (firm) and consumer. Here are some of the themes that emerged from the survey:
- Industry-wide groupings. Nobody trusts energy companies. That’s not entirely surprising, given the general perceptions of price gouging and environmental irresponsibility that haunt the industry. But as it turns out, no one is particularly fond of phone companies or diversified financial firms either. Food and beverage, consumer and industrial products, general retail and computer companies did much better. The takeaway here is that a certain amount of preconception exists for consumers about any brand, based solely on the broad reputation of the industry of which it is a part. You may benefit from this or suffer from it, depending on your industry, but eventually your individual firm’s interactions will differentiate you from the industry rep for better or worse.
- Corporate citizenship. The number one position on the 2012 list was General Mills. They won the status in large part through the widely held perception that the company is a good corporate citizen. In their case, this reputation is based on greener packaging, healthy changes to cereal and other products, and good governance of the companies it takes over. Other than going paperless, packaging isn’t likely to be a relevant issue for your accounting firm. However, the principle of being a supportive member of your community is quite relevant. People like to support those firms that they feel are active in their communities and those that sacrifice for the greater good. Hours spent volunteering at local charities may do more than help those in need…they could turn into new business too.
- Listening and communicating. Some of the big winners stand out because of their established history of effectively communicating with consumers. Kraft Foods, the second place winner in this year’s survey, is a notable example of this practice. The company uses a wide variety of online and print channels to build relationships and communicate marketing messages, as well as content that lets customers check out new recipes and read about company trends and developments. They have an active social media presence, too, that encourages feedback.
- It’s a process. Some industries are on the way down the list while others are moving slowly up, but significant change takes time (barring an event that causes a sudden plummet into infamy). If your industry or worse yet, your firm, is trying to recover from some reputation-destructive event, don’t expect things to turn around overnight. The best, most proactive and responsible response to negative events can’t change the fact that it takes time to rebuild trust, just as it does to build it in the first place.
These are only a few of the many factors that comprise the emotional connection between brands and buyers, of course. The fact is that these feelings may be far from the reality of a company’s behavior and unrelated to the real service, ethics and utility of the brand. The best you can do is to be consistent, be a responsible citizen and communicate well with your market niche in good times and bad. Over time, the sum total of your behavior will build loyal support from those in the best position to know your firm – your clients.