While the overall perception of corporate America remains relatively grim, there were mixed signals to be found in the results of the 2013 Harris Poll RQ Study which engages over 14,000 members of the general public to measure the reputations of the sixty most visible companies in the country.
16 percent of the public said that the reputation of corporate America showed some improvement, 7 percent more than in 2012, while 49 percent said it declined, which was 11 percent less than those who felt this way last year. Only six companies achieved RQ scores of eighty and above, which signifies a great reputation, 25 percent fewer companies than in 2012 and nearly two-thirds less than just two years ago.
“The public seem to have become pragmatically realistic with their expectations of corporate America,” says Robert Fronk, Executive Vice President of Reputation Management at Harris Interactive, publisher of the Harris Poll, “and we characterize this year’s overall findings as the great muddling of corporate America.”
Earning the highest reputation this year is Amazon.com, edging out last year’s most reputable company, Apple, which is ranked second. This is Amazon’s first time earning the top ranking, but the fifth consecutive year with a great reputation score. The Walt Disney Company, Google, and Johnson & Johnson complete the top five. This is Google’s eight consecutive top five appearance, an incredible achievement for a fourteen year old company.
AIG and Goldman Sachs return to the bottom two reputation positions on the list of the most visible companies, joined by Halliburton, American Airlines, and Bank of America. With a full six point increase in RQ score though, Bank of America had the highest year-over-year increase in the 2013 study. Best Buy and Honda experienced the greatest decline in RQ scores.
RQ measures six dimensions that comprise reputation and influence consumer behavior. The dimensions and the 2013 leaders are:
• Social Responsibility – Whole Foods
• Emotional Appeal – Amazon.com
• Financial Performance – Apple
• Products & Services – Amazon.com
• Vision & Leadership – Apple
• Workplace Environment – Google
Amazon’s reputation strength runs wide and deep as it ranked in the top five in five of the six dimensions of reputation. Amazon had a five point advantage over any other company in the study in the dimension of Emotional Appeal, despite an entirely virtual relationship with the public. Amazon also achieved the top rating in the dimension of Products & Services.
Amazon earned nearly 100 percent positive ratings on all measures related to Trust. More than 50 percent of respondents also recall discussing Amazon with friends and family in the past year, and nearly 100 percent of these conversations were positive.
“Our results show that Amazon has managed to build an intimate relationship with the public without being perceived as intrusive,” adds Fronk. “And as the company that is so widely known for its personal recommendations, more than nine in ten members of the public would recommend Amazon to friends and family.”
The results for Apple and Google are equally as impressive as those for Amazon and continue a compelling trend that has been developing for the past few years – companies that begin in the technology sector, which is by far and away the highest-rated industry when it comes to reputation, absorb the reputation equity from the industry, then transcend the industry to become a more multi-faceted business. By transcending beyond being thought of as tech companies, Amazon, Apple, and Google earn high marks for the other drivers of great reputation as well; Trust, Admiration, Respect, Outperforming Their Competition, and Being A Great Company To Work For.
While still in negative territory, the banking industry showed some encouraging signs in 2013. Positive ratings of the industry are now 25 percent, a more than 50 percent increase from 2012. Wells Fargo became the first of the four big banking companies in the past four years to move from negative to positive equity in the dimension of Emotional Appeal. Harris’s fourteen years of conducting the RQ study show that a company cannot build or maintain positive reputation without this positive equity. Wells Fargo also received significantly higher marks on attributes related to its people and work environment, and it is possible that these may be the first signs of a bank once again being seen as trusted.