NEW YORK: Amazon.com is the most reputable company in the US, according to Harris Interactive's 14th annual Reputation Quotient study.
Amazon beat out last year's most reputable company, Apple, which ranked second this year. Rounding out the top five were Walt Disney, Google, and Johnson & Johnson.
The least reputable companies were AIG and Goldman Sachs, respectively. Also in the bottom five were oilfield company Halliburton, American Airlines, and Bank of America.
Harris Interactive surveyed more than 14,000 people last November. The study measured the 60 most visible US companies based on six reputation drivers, including social responsibility, emotional appeal, financial performance, products and services, vision and leadership, and workplace environment.
More than 50% of respondents said they discussed Amazon with friends and family last year, and nearly 100% of those conversations were positive. Broken down by segment, Amazon was the leading company in terms of emotional appeal, despite having only a virtual relationship with consumers.
“Amazon has no brick-and-mortar presence and consumers never meet its employees, so for [Amazon] to lead other companies that do have that is amazing,” said Robert Fronk, EVP of reputation management at Harris Interactive. “The company has done a fantastic job of sitting on the fine line of being personal with you, understanding what you want and how to offer things you may not have known would delight you, but in a way that's not creepy or intrusive.”
The dominant determinant behind a company's reputation is whether it plays a valuable social role, a factor that has become increasingly important in the last few years, Fronk said.
“Consumers are fundamentally saying, ‘I want to understand that your company has a purpose.' This is not about philanthropy or CSR initiatives. It's more broadly about who you are,” Fronk explained. “Amazon has a clear purpose – it's functional, but it still provides social value.”
Six in ten survey respondents said they proactively seek out information about a company's behavior and activities before engaging with its products and services, and they often attempt to influence and share those findings with friends and family.
Thirty percent of those surveyed said they get company information through social media, but only 14% said they trust those channels.
“Consumers have gotten really savvy and efficient in how they're finding information. If we're throwing fluff out there, we're not going to succeed,” said Stephen Halsey, principal and MD at Gibbs & Soell. “As communications professionals, it's also understanding that you have to give up some level of control, since 60% of consumers decide if they like you before they actually engage.”
Technology was the most reputable industry, while banking, financial services, and tobacco companies continued to struggle with reputation, the survey found. However, positive ratings of banking and financial services increased from 18% and 17% last year, respectively, to 25% each.
Overall, 16% of respondents said corporate America's reputation showed some improvement, a 7% year-on-year increase. Forty-nine percent said corporate America's reputation declined, compared with 60% who agreed with that sentiment last year.
“Consumers are looking for risk-takers. Companies should step out and invest in themselves, and tell us why we should trust or engage with them,” Fronk said. “There's a real opportunity for corporate differentiation right now.”