Corporations face an uphill battle when it comes to their public perception and winning consumers’ trust. In a recent poll we conducted, we found a significant disconnect between working Americans and corporations. 86% of working Americans feel the interests of the people who run big corporations are fundamentally different than theirs. 87% believe that corporations care more about stock prices and profits than making America stronger, and 82% believe the people that run corporations do not feel a sense of responsibility to do right by their workers. Moreover, trust in businesses is down across the board, with small businesses as the only real outlier.
In this environment where American’s view of corporations is largely negative and values are misaligned, a strong corporate reputation can separate an organization from the masses in the eyes of consumers.
Although an intangible concept, research shows that a strong reputation increases corporate worth, enhances the ability to recruit top talent, and provides a sustained competitive advantage. A business can achieve its objectives more easily if it has a good reputation among its stakeholders, especially consumers. As a key driver of business success, it is critical for companies to not just manage their reputation, but work diligently to enhance it.
The BSG Approach
In conducting corporate reputation work for some of the world’s leading corporations, our experience has taught us that the strongest reputation campaigns express the link between the character of a company and values of its core constituency. By communicating the driving purpose of a company—one that is elevated beyond merely its own short-term profits—a corporate reputation campaign can engender the feeling that the company is creating some good in the world and, in the process, get a consumer or influencer on its side. This helps create a reservoir of trust that can generate interest in new products and campaigns, mitigate the risks of bad news, and speed the recovery time after a crisis.
Most reputation campaigns are a hodgepodge of feel good activities, such as philanthropic giving. While these can play an important role in establishing a reputation campaign, our work in the field points to three critical factors:
- First, reputation campaigns need to be linked to the core function of the business. A bank, for instance, will get more credit with efforts focused on economic mobility than, say, childhood literacy. A household products company will get more credit for sustainability (think packaging and chemicals) or gender equality than promoting agriculture in the developing world. The inherent good of these initiatives make them worth pursuing for their own sake, but brands shouldn’t expect them to make a significant difference when it comes to their reputation.
- Second, campaigns need to communicate a company’s values in a way that aligns with consumers’ own. Trust is developed when people see alignment between their values and another’s. Feeling an understanding and affinity for what drives a company enables people to have confidence that each next step will be a good one, and they give the company the benefit of the doubt.
- Third, the dimensions of trust are not universal. They vary from category to category, and getting those dimensions right is critical to developing a reputation plan that will resonate with key stakeholders.
Our objective with each corporate reputation initiative is to unpack the essential pieces of a brand’s reputation and other related aspects. This provides an understanding of how different categories of information come together to shape the brand image, and the relative importance of each. Specifically, we seek to learn:
- What matters (and what does not) in shaping perceptions of a brand
- The values that shape the lives of consumers and influencers
- Where the brand stands on these critical dimensions of its reputation
- What roadblocks are standing in the way of building a stronger reputation
- What types of actions in different categories move the needle in a positive direction
- Which initiatives connect back to perceptions of the clients’ core function, so that reputational gains can support business goals
- The language that best expresses these values, so that companies can speak authentically
The Value for Clients
BSG’s strategic corporate reputation work provides clients with:
- An understanding of the public’s underlying attitudes - By uncovering the hidden architecture of opinion, we come away with an understanding of the perceptions and expectations of a brand to then determine what drives corporate reputation of that specific brand, and why the brand is where it is.
- The values that define them – Reputation isn’t about simply inoculating clients in times of crisis. More and more consumers and other stakeholders are looking for the values that define the companies they do business with from. Our reputation work helps clients identify and crystalize the values they should be consistently conveying.
- A comprehensive strategy (and later the tactics) – Our approach begins by defining a strategy and strategic positioning and then judging each potential action by its fit within that strategy.
- A roadmap - With an understanding of where the brand is (and why), what strengths and weaknesses it can credibly leverage, and a deep understanding of what these strengths and weaknesses mean to stakeholders, we can tell clients where the brand should move, where the brand has “permission” to move and most importantly, how exactly they should work to move there.
- Perceptions of their brand and competitors over time- We track the impact of marketing and communications efforts on key perceptions and business outcomes tailored to each key audience. We identify the areas where strategy is working and where it can be improved for further impact. This can include:
- Ongoing stakeholder tracking
- Ongoing traditional and social media monitoring
- Point-in-time instant feedback when challenges / opportunities arise
A healthy corporate reputation stems from a company’s values and is the foundation for consumer trust. While many companies, blinded by external PR pressures, mistakenly opt for quick, cosmetic fixes, corporate reputation is something that should be built over time and requires constant nurturing and monitoring. The strategy must leverage the brand’s reputational advantages and work to correct any weaknesses, as well as identify any “reservoirs of good will” that can be utilized.
In the end, crafting a strategic position that helps audiences genuinely come to know the company’s character and purpose is a valuable investment. It allows the brand to take meaningful tactical steps that reconstruct the public’s relationships with the brand on more positive and durable footing, and over time can help increase the bottom line.