Corporations can spend years or even decades burnishing a positive reputation, one that exudes good faith and is paramount to holding the confidence and trust of their stakeholders.
But in an era where news and information travel at lightning speed, even the smallest of scandals can lead to major image problems in a hurry, creating an organizational black eye that—even in the most ideal of situations—may require no end of resources and time to fully recover.
In other words, building and bolstering a good corporate reputation is an ongoing, often painstaking process, requiring a lot of hard work and vigilance to ensure you can weather the inevitable image crisis.
And while unpredictable social feeds and negative search results don’t always make that process easy, the rift separating those that do online reputation repair well and those that don’t is both obvious and growing, providing a stark contrast between the brands people love and those who’ve set their bridges on fire.
We take a brief look at what factors into reputation, which companies are carrying the best and worst reputations into 2020, and how those reps will likely affect brand position, impact and profitability in the year ahead.
What goes into corporate reputation? How is it calculated?
While publications and organizations tend to utilize unique formulas to score reputation, most consider a number of key factors when calculating and comparing the overall value of corporate image. Among the most common categories considered when evaluating brand reputation include but aren’t limited to corporate culture, social responsibility, company leadership, financial performance, customer sentiment and products & services.
Though not always clearly defined, corporate culture is what typically embodies the values, behaviors and beliefs that drive interaction between employees, management, investors, partners and the greater community. A firm’s approach to how it treats its workforce and customers are often be considered elements of company culture.
Corporate social responsibility represents a company’s level of commitment to behaviors and practices focused on improving the community and society as a whole. Socially responsible business practices can revolve around anything from company-based charity drives to sourcing materials from eco-friendly suppliers and more.
Company leadership plays a crucial role not only in where the organization is going and how it’s getting there, but also in how it shapes and defines its corporate reputation. The focus, communications and behavior engaged in by senior executives and CEOs have the power to set, support and even ruin its image.
A company’s sales numbers, value and financial trends all have significant consequences in terms of how partners, investors, competitors and customers perceive your brand. How well your company fares with the buying public and how it promises to perform in the future can have a serious impact on where your reputation is and where it’s going.
How does the buying public think and feel about your company? Because so much of your success or failure depends on how consumers interact with your brand, there’s no denying the oversized role your customer sentiment has in the quality and extent of your business reputation.
Products & services
Companies are indelibly linked to the products and services they offer. So, when that latest innovation becomes a hit or that new service line hits a brick wall, your reputation is going to feel it.
Companies with the Best Reputations at the Start of 2020
There are many corporate brands vying for the top spot as we begin the new decade, but only a few have really stood out as “best of the best” in terms of image and perception.
Here are the five companies we believe have the best reputations as we dig into 2020:
#4 Walt Disney
#1 The LEGO Group
While Amazon has endured some reputation setbacks (anti-union issues, tabloid attacks, headquarters relocation controversy) over the past few years, the e-commerce giant’s popularity among online consumers remains strong, effectively buoying its position as one of the most reputable companies of early 2020.
The online retailer’s user-friendly platform, high marks on Glassdoor and ongoing success atop the online retail industry have more-or-less cemented its positive reputation for the foreseeable future, barring any serious and unexpected challenges from competitors.
#4 Walt Disney
The Walt Disney Company is a perennial contender for most reputable corporation in the world, consistently ranking among the top 10 companies in reputation quotients and scoring every year. Coming in third in Reputation Institute’s 2019 Global RepTrak® 100 and fifth in the 2019 Axios Harris Poll, the global media and theme park powerhouse is regarded as one of the most recognized and endearing names in entertainment.
Disney’s positive reputation is a testament not only to decades of family-friendly programming and largely unmatched financial success, but also the conglomerate’s continually inspired leadership and commitment to socially responsible endeavor. The company contributed nearly $350 million to organizations helping the disadvantaged in 2018, and is currently in pursuit of reducing companywide carbon emissions in half by 2020.
Patagonia’s hardline support of every product it sells has solidified its reputation as one of the top clothing retailers in the country, if not the world.
Founded more than 40 years ago, Patagonia stands behind the quality of its products by offering replacements, repairs and refunds to any customer who is less than satisfied—a guarantee hard to find in any industry. Add that to the firm’s longstanding dedication to environmental causes, evident in the yearly donation of 1% of all revenue it makes to eco-focused organizations, and you’ve got a reputation that’ll be difficult to surpass or break for years to come.
Patagonia prides itself on “living its purpose,” a mantra that’s earned the successful clothing company a great reputation score and top-5 ranking on the 2019 Axios Harris Poll.
Ranked fifth in the recent Global RepTrak® 100 and ninth in the 2019 Harris Poll, Microsoft seems to have emerged mostly unscathed by the generally negative news coverage of the tech industry over the last few years.
Much of this may be due to the steady, seasoned leadership of longtime Microsoft executive and current CEO Satya Nadella, who has not only elevated the company’s presence in the services and cloud infrastructure sectors as late, but has also earned an impressive employee-approval rating on Glassdoor. Many also credit the software juggernaut’s strong reputation showing to its commitment to transparency during product issues and updates—something that’s been essential to retaining consumer trust.
Regardless of the reason, Microsoft has been top-ten in company reputation for nearly a decade—and seems to improve upon its industry-leading image with each passing year.
#1 The LEGO Group
As a toy, Legos have been a source of inspiration, entertainment and joy for generations, providing millions around the globe the opportunity to create, explore and bring the furthest depths of their block-building imagination to life.
But in terms of corporate reputation, The LEGO Group embodies something even greater: the ideal company brand. LEGO has come to represent what’s possible not only when you rein in your own brand narrative, but when you demonstrate the flexibility and desire to pivot, adapt and build an image that truly connects with today’s audience.
Facing serious, even existential struggles in the early 2000s, the Danish toymaker seized the initiative and undertook the process of complete brand reinvention, making major changes in marketing, product offerings and the way relationships were built across different consumer segments. Coupled with a renewed emphasis on positive corporate culture, social responsibility and environmentally sustainable business practices, these changes have produced what is now one of the best and most compelling brands on Earth—one that continues to set the standard for brand growth, image and reputation.
The LEGO GROUP comes in at #2 on the 2019 Global RepTrak® 100. But for our 2020 best reputation list, they’re definitely the first on the block. 😉
Honorable mentions (companies with strong online reps): L.L. Bean, Procter & Gamble, Publix and Sony
Companies with the worst reputations at the start of 2020
Now that we’ve taken a quick glance at companies doing brand image well, let’s check out a few firms that could use a little (probably a LOT) of online reputation repair.
Here’s are the companies we think have the worst reputations at the start of 2020:
#5 Goldman Sachs
#1 Phillip Morris
#5 Goldman Sachs
Despite significant gains and impressive scoring in profitability in recent years—and a major effort to rehab its reputation—Goldman Sachs continues to struggle with an image failing to engender trust and accountability among the general public. Whether fair or not, Goldman seems unable to shake the stigma of the 2008 financial crisis, carrying the brunt of negativity many in the financial sector have been able to move beyond over the past decade.
Though it remains a standard-bearer and one of the more successful brands in finance, Goldman Sachs tends to generate feelings of distrust and unethical behavior among many outside the Wall Street bubble. But even though brand sentiment has remained relatively changed, though there are signs (however small) that the firm’s recent image repair campaign may finally be working.
Facebook has been awash in controversy in recent years, coping with highly public battles and PR crises that are certainly doing no favors for the social media behemoth or its tattered reputation. Issues like the company’s influence on the 2016 election cycle, failure to protect user privacy and inability (or refusal) to police content on its platform have sparked criticism from lawmakers, celebrities and advocates from each side of the aisle, creating serious image problems that are continually augmented (perhaps ironically) on popular social forums.
Combine that with seemingly tone-deaf testimony by CEO Mark Zuckerberg and negative coverage of tech companies in general, and Facebook’s brand reputation seems to edge closer to nightmare status with each passing day.
Telecommunications giant Comcast has long struggled with a generally negative perception among consumers, receiving consistently low American Customer Satisfaction Index scores for its internet, subscription TV and fixed-line telephone services. Add in several high-profile lawsuits targeting “deceptive pricing practices” in recent years, and you have a reputation that seems to be on perpetual life support—despite the company’s ongoing position as the predominant cable provider in the industry.
Of course, the industries in which Comcast operates (internet, tv, etc.) are supercharged magnets for customer complaints and high rates of dissatisfaction. But overall, Comcast tends to perform worse than most if not all competitors, distinguishing itself as one of “America’s most-hated companies” on a regular basis.
Comcast comes in at #91 on the 2019 Axios Harris survey.
If you spent any time following Sears over the past five years, you might get the impression that brick-and-mortar retail has one foot firmly in the grave. The one-time retail innovator has fallen far from its one-time perch it enjoyed atop the industry, suffering major reputational hits as the result of steadily dipping sales, numerous store closings and the major brand sell-offs (think: Craftsman)—as well as a relatively recent bankruptcy declaration that may soon seal the deal on the American icon’s fate.
All this in spite of an industry that seems to be experiencing a reputational renaissance, particularly across crucial areas of overall financial performance. Sears downward slide is not only bucking retail’s upward trend, but putting the brand in a spot where any sort of reputation repair or recovery may soon be impossible.
#1 Philip Morris
It’s no secret how much the tobacco industry’s reputation has slipped over the last few decades, and industry giant Philip Morris is certainly no exception to the rule. Subject to consistently bad publicity, numerous notable lawsuits and increasingly negative attitudes toward smoking in general, the Philip Morris brand faces a seemingly insurmountable reputational challenge every day—and with little-to-no end in sight.
But while Morris and big tobacco lack in terms of positive, compelling public perception, both continue to score relatively high in financial performance—an indicator, many say, of the industry’s unrelenting focus on profit over the public good.
(Dis) honorable mentions (companies scoring low on our reputation barometer): The U.S. Government, Trump Org., Dish Network, Wells Fargo
While some have managed a polished, compelling brand despite self-inflicted issues and a tumultuous digital climate, others haven’t been so lucky. And for those on the losing end of the reputation equation, the consequences have sometimes been dire, tarnishing not only public perception, but also their ability to grow, compete and maintain meaningful connections with consumers.
At Reputation Sciences™, we specialize in online reputation repair and brand management solutions to get your rep back on its feet—and get your business in position to compete, thrive and grow no matter what is threatening your image.
Schedule your free initial consultation or call (855) 266-8854 to learn more.