Corporate reputation has been important for a long time. The need to protect his company’s reputation from poor imitations is, after all, why W. K. Kellogg put his signature—or rather, a facsimile of it—on every box of cornflakes produced by his company. The Kellogg’s signature was registered as a trademark more than 100 years ago, back in 1917.
Where is corporate reputation today?
Today, corporate reputation matters more than ever. However, unlike W. K. Kellogg, companies now have to worry about a lot more than the content of rival boxes of cereal. A study by Weber Shandwick released in 2021 found that numerous factors contribute to corporate reputation. Over 20 factors were cited by at least half of the executives surveyed. The top three were quality of products and services, quality of employees and quality of customer service, suggesting that old-fashioned values are still considered a priority. However, the overwhelming message from the report is that everything matters in constructing and maintaining a corporate reputation.
There is also another element in the mix in 2022: social media. News travels fast these days. An error can go viral extremely fast—as McDonald’s found out the hard way back in 2012 when it launched the hashtag #McDStories. The company was hoping for feelgood stories about Happy Meals and happy customers. Instead, what it attracted was more like #McDHorrorStories. Worse, although the company ‘withdrew’ the hashtag within a very short space of time, customers continued to use it. The most recent tweet using the hashtag is from June 2022. Not so much hashtag as ‘bashtag’, as Forbes put it.
Social media can also be a tool for good. In 2011, there was an exchange of letters between 3-year-old Lily Robinson and supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. Lily asked why ‘tiger bread’ was not called ‘giraffe bread’. A customer manager wrote back and agreed that the bread did look more like a giraffe than a tiger, and enclosed a gift card. Seven months later, the exchange was shared on Facebook—and just one week later, Sainsbury’s announced that tiger bread would be known as giraffe bread in future. The positive feedback was huge.
Tools and strategies for monitoring and managing corporate reputation
Reputations can therefore be both made and broken in a matter of hours. In our ‘always on’ world, what strategies and tools might reputation custodians want to consider? There are three main groups to consider in strategic terms:
- Employees as brand representatives. Where does personal reputation stop, and corporate reputation start? Corporate reputation is, increasingly, the sum of the reputation of all the company’s employees. Thought leadership is perhaps the most obvious form of employee advocacy. However, when every customer contact is part of the brand experience, every employee is potentially responsible for brand reputation.
- The role of partners. Increasingly important in recent years, partners now play a growing role in the delivery of goods and services—and therefore in corporate reputation. Ignore partner relationship management at your peril.
- Customers as brand advocates. Perhaps even more than employees, customers value information and feedback from other customers. This doesn’t just mean seeking reviews shortly after a sale. It means an ongoing relationship with your customers, recognising that the brand journey doesn’t stop with a purchase. Long-term engagement will help to build brand loyalty and repeat custom.
There are also many tools and strategies available to monitor and measure corporate reputation. The key here is ongoing, continuous monitoring. In a world where a few hours can mean thousands of Tweets, nobody can afford to check on customer, partner or employee satisfaction using an annual survey. Instead, you need to use modern and rapid ways of checking in with all these groups.
Monitoring social media is essential, but there are also some formal tools that can be used. Reputation contribution is the proportion of shareholder value that is directly contributed by corporate reputation. The Reputation Quotient model uses six dimensions and 21 constituents to measure reputation. These include social responsibility (covering supporting good causes, environmental responsibility and community responsibility) and emotional appeal (covering feel good about, admire, and trust). Finally, one of the simplest but best-known tools is the Net Promoter Score, which assesses how likely customers are to recommend a brand or product to friends and family.
All these provide a picture over time of the company’s reputation—a series of snapshots that together build a bigger picture. The real question is what really matters.
The Six Revolutions team is exploring the intersection of thought leadership, personal and corporate reputation. We want to hear from you, as we compile practitioner views on the evolving nature of reputation governance.