Regional brick-and-mortar retailers are more prominent, and many once-leading American companies are noticeably absent from the 2012 Harris Poll RQ study, which asks the general public to measure the reputations of the 60 most visible companies in the country.
This year’s most reputable brand, Apple, benefits greatly from its hybrid status as a technology/consumer product/retail company, and earns the highest RQ score to secure the top spot in the ranking. It displaces Google, last year’s most reputable corporation, which now ranks second with a score of 82.82. The Coca-Cola Company, ranked 15th in 2011, has surged into third place, despite any meaningful change in its reputation rating. Amazon.com moves up from eighth to fourth place and Kraft Foods, ranked fifth.
Robert Fronk (Executive vice president, Global Corporate Reputation Practice Lead, Harris Interactive): We are seeing the emergence of a group of companies that garner reputation equity by being positively associated with multiple industries.
Companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon.com combine innovation and leadership across multiple business areas, giving them true competitive advantage.
In terms of year-over-year change, only Toyota, General Motors, BP, and Apple enjoy significant improvement in their RQ scores while one quarter of companies saw drastic declines. Among those with the most significant declines, five were financial institutions, including the 2010 top scorer, Berkshire Hathaway.
RQ measures six dimensions that comprise reputation and influence consumer behavior. Apple has the greatest score overall. In fact, Apple records the highest score in the RQ’s history, and is top-ranked in four of the six key dimensions of reputation:
- Financial Performance – Apple
- Products & Services – Apple
- Vision & Leadership – Apple
- Workplace Environment – Apple
- Social Responsibility – Whole Foods
- Emotional Appeal – Amazon.com. Amazon.com, which has no storefront and very limited human interaction, scores highest in the Emotional Appeal dimension.
In terms of supportive behavior, customers report considerable confidence in Amazon.com and several other companies:
- In the future, Americans would “definitely” purchase products & services from Amazon.com (71%), Kraft Foods (70%), and the Coca-Cola Company (64%).
- Americans would “definitely” recommend to others products & services from Amazon.com (64%) and Kraft Foods (57%).
- In the future Americans would “definitely” invest in stock from Amazon.com (34%), Microsoft (23%), and the Coca-Cola Company (23%).
- Americans would “definitely” recommend to others to invest in stock from Amazon.com (46%), the Coca-Cola Company (25%), and Microsoft (24%)
An RQ score of 80 or above signifies a company with an “excellent reputation.” Since first measured in 2000, Apple has shown steady improvement, earning an elite score of 85.62 this year, the highest RQ score ever achieved by any company in the 13 years of the RQ study.
Reflecting the negative mood of consumers, this year only eight companies earn such scores. This is a 50% decrease from 2011, when 16 companies earned this privileged status.
Meanwhile, the sudden appearance of brick-and mortar retailers like Best Buy, Costco, JCPenney, Kohl’s, Walgreens, and Macy’s on the most visible companies roster contrasts sharply with the absence of iconic U.S.-based manufacturers, like IBM and Intel Corporation.
A look back at the RQ most visible list from ten years ago also shows the dramatic change in the American corporate landscape. At that time, nine industrial manufacturers (excluding automotive) and six retailers made the list. This year’s list contains two companies in the industrial manufacturing space and is dominated by 14 retail brands, nearly one-quarter of the total list.
In charting the ten-year trajectory of individual companies, Apple and Hewlett Packard emerge as starkly different examples of how reputation management and behavior can impact perception.
Apple’s current dominance is built on strong investments in its brand, predominantly through its products and services. This one-dimensional approach to building reputation has ultimately yielded high associations with all six reputational dimensions and ranks it first in Financial Performance, Products & Services, Vision & Leadership, and Workplace Environment.
Conversely, Hewlett Packard, which once out-ranked Apple, has headed in the reverse direction. Hewlett Packard’s slowly eroding reputation has been injured by negative perceptions on Ethics and Vision & Leadership dimensions, and its brand is beginning to feel the damage.
Moreover, a dozen companies visible in 2011 did not appear this year at all, including 3M, Intel, SC Johnson, Unilever, Facebook, Pfizer, State Farm Insurance, The Allstate Corporation, Shell, Monsato, American Airlines, and Delta Airlines.
Over the lifespan of the RQ study, twelve companies have received scores below 50, and the vast majority of these, like Enron, MCI (formerly WorldCom), Adelphia, and Global Crossing, are now defunct. The 2012 RQ survey shows the reputations of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and AIG in an equally challenging place.
Reputation Quotient Methodology
In its 13th consecutive year, The Annual RQ surveys more than 17,000 members of the American general public, utilizing its proprietary Harris Poll online panel. Respondents are first asked to identify the 60 most visible companies and then surveyed to rate these companies based on their reputation on 20 different attributes that comprise the RQ instrument. The attributes are then grouped into six different reputation dimensions: Emotional Appeal, Products & Services, Social Responsibility, Vision & Leadership, Workplace Environment, and Financial Performance. In addition to the 20 attributes, the study includes a number of reputation-related questions that help provide a comprehensive understanding of public perceptions. The 2012 RQ survey was conducted from December 2, 2011 to December 19, 2011.