WHILE Americans remain fairly skeptical about the reputation of corporate America, the gap appears to be narrowing between skepticism and confidence in corporations, according to a recently released Harris Poll conducted by Harris Interactive.
"A Survey of the U.S. General Public Using the Reputation Quotient (RQ)" found that only 20% of consumers believe the overall reputation of corporate America has improved, but that still has more than doubled from 9% just two years ago. The number of hard-core skeptics of corporate America dropped 14% from a year ago and 42% from five years ago (Figure 1).
Nine companies achieved RQ scores above 80, which is considered the standard of excellence. This is three more than in 2013. Equally telling was that the poll found, for the first time since 2007, that no company achieved an RQ score of below 50, the score at which a company's reputation is considered to be in critical shape.
The companies most liked and trusted by consumers taking part in the poll were technology firms. Only 5% of consumers said they had negative views of the technology sector, while 1% were neutral on the industry and 80% had positive views, making it the most trusted industry.
Among the opportunities and challenges confronting corporations were those related to data management and corporate conduct. The Harris Poll found that more than three-quarters of the general public is concerned about the amount of private information companies capture about their customers. Less than half trust that companies will act responsibly with private data.
Only 31% indicated that they learn company information via social media tools, and only 17% actually trust this information more than they do information from other sources.
At the same time, though, the poll showed that nearly six in 10 consumers say they research companies before doing business with them, and the same proportion generally decide not to do business with a company based on something they learned about the company's conduct. Nearly five in 10 consumers proactively tried to influence the perceptions of their friends and family as well.
The 2014 poll found that, for the first time in more than a decade, investors were more often positive about corporate America's reputation.
From 2013 to 2014, Monsanto and McDonald's each dropped back by 4.4 RQ points. The only food/agricultural company to move up in RQ score was Chick-Fil-A, which rose by 7.0 RQ points (Figure 2).
Costco and Whole Foods were the only food/agricultural companies to earn "excellent" RQ scores of 80 or more for 2014. Whole Foods was singled out for its vision and leadership, while Costco earned its high marks based on workplace environment.
Harris Interactive has conducted the Harris Poll RQ survey since 1999 as a means of measuring the corporate reputation of the 60 most visible companies in the U.S. The annual study involves a two-step process that begins with a nominations phase and is followed by a ratings phase, during which the reputation of the companies is measured.
The 2014 survey was conducted during the Dec. 23, 2013, to Jan. 6, 2014, period and involved online polling of 14,055 people.