The Place for Reputation in a Post-Covid World

By Nikki Wright

Colmar Brunton’s Corporate Reputation Index, a partnership with Wright Communications, is an annual survey of the reputations of Kiwi companies, as seen through the eyes of New Zealanders.

Despite COVID-19 decimating international travel, Air New Zealand’s resilient reputation has landed it on top of the 2021 index for the seventh year running, ranking first among New Zealand’s top 50 companies for responsibility, trust and leadership.

The goodwill fostered by Air New Zealand has held up in turbulent times and it is evident that many consumers perceive the airline positively and feel it represents the country well.

The latest Colmar Brunton Corporate Reputation Index has Pak’n Save in second spot, followed by TVNZ, Toyota, AA Insurance, Fisher & Paykel, New World, Bunnings, Kiwibank and Countdown.

Foodstuffs brands have fared well: New World is now 7th in the rankings, while Pak’n’Save moved up to second position and retains the number one spot for fairness, its momentum reflecting the abiding concern Kiwis have about the cost of living, and a perception the company looked after its workers during the lockdown.

Also of note, Bunnings overall ranking has risen four places, from 12th to 8th. Many people are spending their money on home renovations as they can’t travel internationally. The garden and hardware store saw improvements in its reputation for trust and responsibility, with long term gains in its perception for fairness. While some retailers saw a poorer performance for social responsibility, Bunnings experienced a relative improvement.

Reputation is the reservoir corporations can siphon from during challenging times. The leading brands on the index have shown this and are continuing to flourish as the economy regains momentum.

Accountability, transparency, and authenticity are the lodestar of corporate reputation, and for corporate brands with limited public interface, media coverage, good or bad, will have the most influence on public perception of these traits.

Companies which do right by the public, and tell their stories well, build resilience that enables them to ride out setbacks and bad news. Conversely, companies that don’t consistently provide a great customer experience or communicate how they are dealing with their issues find their reputations suffer.

Corporate reputation is arguably an organisation’s most valuable asset. It is vital for winning and retaining customers, developing strategic partners, and establishing sponsorships. It is also increasingly important for attracting and retaining Millennial and Gen Z employees, who have had a handle on the concept of personal branding from the moment of their first Instagram post and who often view a corporation through the prism of its reputation for conscientiousness and strong organisational purpose as much as its material rewards. 

If your internal culture is strong - employees are valued, informed, and involved - the organisation’s reputational strength will emanate out to external stakeholders. Leading companies in the index, like Air New Zealand, and our consistently recognised client, Toyota, have Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes that link to their organisational purpose.

The Corporate Reputation Index looks at four pillars that support reputation: Leadership, Fairness, Responsibility and Trust. All are relevant at critical times, but the one experiencing the greatest growth, the Cinderella pillar, is responsibility. Increasingly, consumers are showing loyalty to brands that go beyond merely providing them with a product or service, by advocating for values and beliefs that align with their own. Taking a more involved approach to environmental issues enables brands to meaningfully connect with the public and enhance their reputation.

A CSR programme formally captures an organisation’s work in this area and an enormous amount of work and resource can go into robust programmes for strategically chosen causes that give back to the country and the community.

Organisations must manage the narrative: identify the stories to tell their good works and tell them well. This is particularly true for B2B organisations whose public reputations, unlike B2C companies, are not based on consumer experience of product quality or customer service.

You are judged by what you do, and that means acting responsibly and consistently, through settled or turbulent times.

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