Celebrating a decade of the Kantar Corporate Reputation Index

By Nikki Wright

A decade ago, I co-founded the Kantar Corporate Reputation Index, which has since become the definitive benchmark for corporate reputation in New Zealand. If I contemplate the greatest successes of my career, the Index would rank among the top. 


It has created a lasting legacy that helps businesses to thrive and improve their reputation, which in turn contributes to better business practices and a healthier business landscape by encouraging businesses to look beyond their bottom line operations as they consider how to build their reputation. 


It encourages companies to invest in reputation management as a strategic asset. 


When we co-founded the Index 10 years ago, our mission was clear: to create a reliable, comprehensive tool that would help businesses understand and improve their standing with the public, stakeholders, and within their industries. 


This year, myself and my team at Wright Communications are especially delighted that Toyota, our longest-serving and largest client, has topped the Index for the very first time after many years as the top automotive company. This achievement is a reflection of Toyota's unwavering commitment to excellence, innovation, and community engagement, marking a significant milestone in their corporate journey. 


The Evolution of Corporate Reputation Over the Decade 

The past 10 years have seen substantial shifts in how corporate reputation is perceived and managed. When we launched the Index, corporate reputation was primarily focused on financial performance and customer satisfaction. Today, it encompasses a broader spectrum, including sustainability, ethical governance, social responsibility, and transparent communication. 


The Index, established in collaboration with Wright Communications in 2015, uses a robust and impartial framework to determine New Zealand’s most reputable corporate entity. It employs Kantar's globally validated RepZ framework, which comprises reputation attributes of Trust (35% weighting), Leadership/Success (25%), Fairness (23%), and Responsibility (16%). Trust is the biggest driver of reputation, and companies that excel in this area are those that demonstrate a consistent commitment to ethical practices, transparency, and community engagement. 


Key Reputation Challenges and Opportunities in New Zealand 

New Zealand's corporate landscape has been shaped by several critical issues and opportunities over the past decade. These have not only influenced individual companies but have also redefined industry standards and public expectations. 


One of the most significant shifts has been the growing importance of environmental sustainability. Businesses are no longer judged solely on their financial success but also on their environmental footprint. Companies like Toyota have led the way by integrating sustainable practices into their core operations, from reducing emissions to investing in renewable energy sources. Their leadership in this area has not only enhanced their reputation but has also set a benchmark for others to follow. This commitment to sustainability is reflected in their local operations, with all 60 Toyota stores in New Zealand being Toitū EnviroMark Gold certified. 


In the decade since the Index launched, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a cornerstone of corporate reputation. In New Zealand, businesses are expected to contribute positively to society, whether through charitable activities, community support, or ethical business practices.  


Companies that have shown empathy, flexibility, and support for their employees and communities have seen their reputations strengthen significantly. Toyota has demonstrated a strong commitment to CSR through various community initiatives. Their local stores actively support community groups and initiatives that promote physical and mental health, local conservation causes, and more. This engagement helps build a deep, trust-based relationship with the community. 


Transparency and ethical governance have been thrust into the spotlight, especially in the wake of various corporate scandals globally. In New Zealand, there has been an increased demand for businesses to operate transparently and ethically. This has led to greater scrutiny of corporate governance practices and a push for companies to be more open about their operations, decision-making processes, and business practices. Toyota's consistent adherence to these principles has been a key factor in their top ranking this year. 


Since the launch of the Index, social cohesion and disharmony have become increasingly important in this context. The spread of misinformation, particularly on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter (now X), has become a critical issue. This has been exacerbated by the misuse of AI technologies to disseminate disinformation, affecting public trust and corporate credibility. The challenge of combating misinformation underscores the importance of transparency and accountability in corporate communications. 


Our research shows that people trust leaders who exhibit powerful, innovative, and transformative leadership rather than mere transactional leadership.  


The rapid pace of technological innovation has also played a critical role in shaping corporate reputations. Companies that embrace new technologies and demonstrate innovation are viewed more favourably. Toyota’s investment in hybrid and electric vehicles, coupled with their advancements in automotive safety technologies, has positioned them as a leader in innovation, further enhancing their reputation. 


But technological advancement also has its pitfalls: the way that companies manage personal information has also become a major consideration in reputation. Major data breaches at companies like Facebook (now Meta) have raised significant concerns about data security and privacy. These breaches have led to a loss of consumer trust and massive regulatory fines, highlighting the importance of robust cybersecurity measures and transparent data handling practices. 


The Role of Communication in Building Trust 

This year’s survey included a section on how corporates communicate. Our findings reveal that the most trusted source of information about companies (trusted by 43% of New Zealanders) are independent articles and reviews in publications such as Canstar, Consumer NZ, and Moneyhub. The next most trusted sources are recommendations from friends or family (31%), government-backed information sites (28%), expert opinions (27%), and consumer reviews (23%). 


Regardless of the source, independent, unbiased viewpoints and informed experience and expertise underpin trust across all age groups. This underscores the importance of transparent, honest communication in building and maintaining a positive corporate reputation. 


Looking Ahead: The Future of Corporate Reputation 

As we look forward to the next decade, the landscape of corporate reputation will continue to evolve. Businesses will need to stay ahead of emerging trends and challenges to maintain and enhance their reputations. 

The digital transformation will be a crucial factor. Companies will need to harness the power of digital tools and platforms to engage with stakeholders effectively, manage their reputations proactively, and respond swiftly to any issues that arise. 

Diversity and inclusion will become increasingly important. Companies that foster inclusive cultures and promote diversity at all levels will not only enhance their reputations but will also drive innovation and performance. 


Finally, the commitment to long-term sustainability will remain paramount. Businesses will need to continue integrating sustainable practices into their operations and demonstrating their commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility. 

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