Another week, and yet another piece of research about the state of corporate reputation at the larger end of the business world.
But Harris Interactive’s latest – and, in fact 14th – Annual Harris Poll RQ Study tells us something both interesting and sobering for the guardians of corporate reputation in organisations worldwide.
The study, conducted with a suitably robust sample size of 19,000 Americans, has found this year that:
More than 60 percent of consumers now “pro-actively try to learn more about how a company conducts itself” before they are willing to consider that company’s products or services.
[They] proactively engage in conversations with others about what they find out about a company.
In 60 percent of cases, decide NOT to do business with a company because of something they learn about that company.
Actively try to influence friends and family on whether to do business or not with a company based upon what they have learned about that company’s conduct.
Though buried at the very bottom of Harris Interactive’s press release based on its survey – where the main headline was the relatively unsurprising news that Amazon, Apple, Google and Disney grace the top five of US companies with the best reputations – the consumer trend that Harris has identified is the most startling element.
Harris’ interpretation of the influence of corporate reputation on the consumer continues: “Companies need to evaluate and understand the increasing importance that playing a valuable social role has on reputation, purchase consideration, advocacy and positive word of mouth. This is about a business having a purpose, not just checking the box on social responsibility or sustainability.”
If right, this is the story of not a passive, but active – or, dare it be said, “activist” – consumer; a consumer that is applying Timothy Leary’s 1960s mantra of “Turn on, tune in, drop out” to its consumption habits (though without the need for added psychedelics). In other words, the consumer is listening, watching and taking action in response to the behaviour of business.
Yet, if the consumer has become the righteous crusader that Harris claims, it remains curious why the corporation tax travails of some of the top businesses named above, and the issues Apple faced with its flawed mapping software, has not had a bigger impact on these companies’ reputations.
Nevertheless, companies would be wise to not dismiss the influence their actions – both in their wider relationship with the world as well as their core products and services – have on the attitude of the consumer.