What is the value of reputation studies?

There are good global reputation studies that are conducted by commercial organisations or by non-profit organisations. I’m thinking of the Edelman Trust Barometer, the Reputation Institute’s surveys, private omnibus surveys by market research agencies and sector specific surveys such as the PatientView reports based on the views of patient organisations.

All these surveys have their value, but also their limitations. They allow you to assess your company’s ranking among competitors and among other industries, they allow you to get the bigger picture, they allow you to understand how things shift year after year, and maybe you can get some insights in the trends of what makes a good reputation, and if you’re at the top of the ranking, you can obtain some additional reputational benefit from it.

Yet these surveys also have their limitations.

First, they’re always based on a very generic questionnaire that uses broad terms such as “governance”, “business ethics”, “quality of products & services”, “transparency”, “innovation”, etc. These are catch-all terms which may mean totally different things to different people, and their meaning varies a lot in different industry sectors.

Second, the interviewees are not your stakeholders but a broad group of public opinion, whether the general public or elite groups.

Third, what is the knowledge level of these people about the workings of

a company? What do I know about the “corporate governance” of Rolex? What do I know about the “innovativeness” of Canon?

Fourth, the questionnaires typically ignore the “customer experience” aspect. Do you know this company first-hand, or is it based on hear-say (through the press for instance)? And if it is first-hand information, how important is your direct experience in interacting with the company in the overall evaluation of their reputation? Are “customer-experience” questions part of the questionnaire?

In sum, they give a bird’s eye view of the situation, but they are insufficiently precise to be actionable for your company.

How to measure reputation?

The way to measure your company’s reputation can only be done by customised reputation surveys. You have to involve your stakeholders in qualitative research first, so that you can understand exactly what their expectations are, and what topics are of real interest to them. They will never use big words like “transparency”. They will use precise terms like “transparency on your pricing policy”, or “transparency on your clinical trials” or “transparency on executive remuneration”, or even more detailed than this, mentioning incidents or issues. Make sure the topics are as concrete as possible. The advantage of this more precise description is that it makes the survey more actionable afterwards. It can identify which kinds of transparency rank higher among stakeholder expectations. Once you start setting up your questionnaire, you may have a list of 50 items or more to assess. Each of your stakeholders – customers, distributors, end-users, interest groups, media, regulators, politicians, etc. – will then be able to let you know what they think is important. And when you do, please make sure your market research agency is capable of making the distinction between “stated importance” and “derived importance”. The latter is essential to understand the real drivers of reputation.

The ultimate goal is to improve your reputation. You can only do that by asking your own stakeholders, and your competitors'. Reputation is essential for all aspects of your business, as we all known, and we needn’t dwell on it here. There is a competitive aspect to it, and it generates substantial value to the company. This can be calculated in monetary terms. Make sure that you use the right levers to improve it.

In sum, general reputation surveys can be of interest, but they will always lack the level of depth you expect to have to improve the reputation of your company, among your stakeholders and in your competitive environment. If you really want to make a difference, if you really care about your company's reputation, use customised surveys.

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