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What the Rankings of the Most Visible Brands Tell Us About the Value of Brand Reputation


Being a well-known brand means every move a company makes goes under the microscope of public scrutiny. In a marketplace driven by customer loyalty and belief-based consumers, reputation is directly connected to a company’s bottom line. Companies need to be able to evaluate their reputation so they can better connect with their customer base. Consumers want to know what companies care about their shared values.

The Harris Poll 100 helps companies and consumers understand the business climate. Backed by 20 years of research, the poll is an annual study that quantifies what real people are saying right now about the 100 most visible companies. Are they on the way up or down? In looking at the rankings it’s clear there were several consistent factors that went into determining these ranks. Here is what this year’s rankings tell us about the value of brand reputation.

1. Brands taking a social stand stand had the biggest gains

Customer Loyalty today is being defined by where and how people make purchases. According to Edelman, one in two consumers are “belief-driven buyers” who base their purchasing decisions on the stand a company takes on societal issues. Of these belief-driven buyers, more than 60 percent bought a brand for the first time simply because of a position it took on a controversial issue. This new philosophy of purchasing requires brands to maintain their reputations by cultivating relationships with consumers via social media. An example of a brand of doing this well is Patagonia, who famously took to the homepage of its website to accuse the president of stealing public land. It holds the #3 rank in the current poll, rising from #9 last year.

2. The reputation of a brand’s leaders are reflected upon that of the brand

Companies that saw the biggest declines in their reputation were those whose leaders acted out in the limelight. Mark Zuckerburg testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, causing those to question Facebook’s integrity. As a result, the platform saw the biggest drop, falling from #51 in 2018 to #94.

3. Social media amplifies controversy and risks reputation

Social media can spread a message further and wider in a small amount of time. While this can be a way to bolster brand and connect with new audiences, it can also work against brands during the time of controversy. Social media can invite a knee-jerk reaction from a company, which is ultimately a mistake. Regardless of the omnipresence of internet intelligence, companies still need to cultivate their image over time. Tesla CEO Elon Musk frequently tweets about his life views, stands up to critics and seems to willfully cause scandals. The result of this is continued exposure in the 24-hour news cycle, and a ranking in the Harris Poll that plummeted from #3 last year to #42 in 2019.

Because companies don’t have control of hashtag activity, brand-specific hashtags are vulnerable to being circulated in morally damaging contexts. This has the potential to influence Customer Loyalty. If a controversy is detected it is likely to attract the attention of foreign agents of disinformation, who are known to leverage bot networks to spread its messaging farther and faster. #Chick-fil-A has been seen in tweets alongside damaging hashtags like #BoycottChickFilA.

4. No one is immune to controversy

The biggest takeaway from this year’s rankings is that no brand is immune to controversy, and that the way they handle it will determine its survival. Although a company ranks at the top of the poll this year, it could be in a completely different spot next year. High ranking brands like Amazon, could see a position change next year as the company continues to dodge controversies surrounding Jeff Bezos’ personal life, the company not paying corporate taxes, allegations of abusive treatment of workers, and the ongoing controversy of the location of their second headquarters. Brands now have the opportunity to reevaluate their brand reputation strategy and make the changes necessary to ensure that they are doing everything to avoid tarnishing their reputation.

Moving Forward to Protect Brand Reputation When Values Matter

Belief-driven consumers expect companies to take a stand on issues, but companies can still control how what value they align with and how they communicate their values to their customers. If consumer values play a role in the products they choose companies must:

  • Invest time in determining what values define its brands
  • Communicate their ideology to consumers
  • Be authentic and ensure that the narratives and conversations taking shape surrounding your brand are authentic as well

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