Corporate reputation rankings: Consistency and kindness matter most

By Nikki Wright

The results are in: 50 leading New Zealand companies have had their reputation ranked thanks to a deep-reaching survey by Colmar Brunton in partnership with Wright Communications.

We can talk about ‘who’ is in the list, though ‘what’ and ‘why’ tell us so much more. The top ten are nine Kiwis - Air New Zealand, Pak’nSave, TVNZ, AA Insurance, Fisher & Paykel, Kiwibank, The Warehouse, New World, Auckland International Airport – and an import we’ve adopted as our own: Toyota.

Factors in the winning formula for outstanding corporate reputation included:

  • Financial support for the communities in which the organisation operates
  • A fastidious approach to quality and continuous improvement
  • Leadership in kaitiaki (guardianship) and environmental protection
  • A willingness to transform their business model to one that sees customers co-creating the consideration and purchase experience
  • Telling stories about how the company responds to diversity, non-profit partnerships, innovation breakthroughs, emissions targets and careers.
  • Kiwiness
  • Proving Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Have a Sustainability Strategy (Don’t have one yet? Talk to us.)

As this year’s Corporate Reputation Index puts it, “Businesses need to understand that there are two types of shareholder: those with stocks, and those that buy products and services.”

With this in mind, let’s talk about the reputation factors of a company which is exemplary in customer satisfaction.

The attributes of this year’s Number One                   

Air New Zealand are the leaders in corporate reputation this year – the fifth year in a row the company has achieved his. It’s been impossible for them to buy good headlines considering the media attacks on the brand over December flight delays, but what Air New Zealand lacks in column centimetres, it makes up for in responsiveness. Chief executive Christopher Luxon admitted over Christmas (by email, sent out to customers) there were a few things not going the company’s way but reassuringly confided what steps were being taken to get things back on track. From my perspective as a customer, I found Luxon’s response comforting. It reaffirmed that I had made the right choice to fly with a brand that understood my angst. By sticking Luxon’s name on it, Air New Zealand took it from a customer loyalty move to a brand reputation checkmate.

The lesson: try not to let media content manage the narrative. You need to identify aspects that enable your company to connect with Kiwis. If the traditional news media don’t want a bar of it, get creative. Issues are going to pop up but transparency and authenticity in your customer communications will go a long way to earning the respect of Kiwis.

Three ways to warm your corporate reputation

Research shows Kiwis want the following from companies: closeness of communication, kindness, and for companies to take sustainability seriously. When a company’s leadership front-foots a position on an issue, it can bring massive uplift in reputation.

I was personally really impressed in early April with the FMA’s CEO calling out Milton Friedman’s principle of shareholder primacy, saying company boards and executives should “anchor themselves” in what's good for New Zealand and the communities in which they operate. This is part of what we call Corporate Activism – similar to when outdoor clothing brand Patagonia closed its US stores to encourage people to vote.

I’d also like to give a thumbs up – or should that be a retweet? – to NZ Privacy Commissioner John Edwards who publicly criticised Facebook for facilitating violence through livestreaming, via Twitter. His strong brand stood on top of a failed brand. We can call this brandstanding.  

Incidentally the US Reputation Institute’s annual survey was released in early April and guess who’s at the absolute bottom of the rankings: Facebook. They can no longer be trusted and when you can’t be trusted your reputation is no longer simply dishevelled.

The message here: reputation is now as important as the other major intangible asset: intellectual property. We can’t leave reputations to chance.

Companies which do the right things by the public and tell their stories well have resilience that enables them to ride out occasional setbacks and bad news, and the company which is right now number one in this area is certainly ‘flying’ clear over any nagging troubles.

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