A surprise? Corporate reputations on the rise.

Corporate reputations on the riseWhat’s happening with the reputations of the leading U.S. corporations? Are we talking “bad rep” or “bum rap”?

Actually, it turns out that corporate reputations are on the rise; that’s according to findings from the 2011 Reputation Quotient® Survey conducted by market research firm Harris Interactive.

Each year since 1999, Harris has measured the reputations of the 60 “most visible” corporations in the United States. The 2011 survey, fielded in January and February, included ~30,000 Americans who are part of Harris’ online panel database. Respondents rated the companies on 20 attributes that comprise what Harris deems the overall “reputation quotient” (RQ).

The 2011 survey contained 54 “most visible” companies that were also part of the 2010 survey. Of those, 18 of the firms showed significant RQ increases compared to only two with declines.

The 20 attributes in the Harris survey are then grouped into six larger categories that are known to influence reputation and consumer behavior:

 Products and services
 Financial performance
 Emotional appeal
 Vision and leadership
 Workplace environment
 Social responsibility

Each of the ten top-rated companies in the 2011 survey achieved between an 81 and 84 RQ score in corporate reputation. (Any RQ score over 80 is considered “excellent” in the Harris study). In cescending order of score, these top-ranked corporations were:

 Google
 Johnson & Johnson
 3M Company
 Berkshire Hathaway
 Apple
 Intel Corporation
 Kraft Foods
 Amazon.com
 Disney Company
 General Mills

At the other end of the scale, the ten companies with the lowest ratings among the 60 included on the survey were:

 Delta Airlines (61 RQ score)
 JPMorgan Chase (61)
 ExxonMobil (61)
 General Motors (60)
 Bank of America (59)
 Chrysler (58)
 Citigroup (57)
 Goldman Sachs (54)
 BP (50)
 AIG (48)

Clearly, BP and AIG haven’t escaped their bottom-of-the-barrel ratings – and probably won’t anytime soon.

What about certain industries in general? The Harris research reveals that the technology segment is perceived most positively, with ~75% of respondents giving that sector a positive rating.

The next most popular segment – retail – had ~57% of respondents giving it a positive rating.

For the auto industry, the big news is not that it’s held in high regard (it’s not) … but that its ratings jumped 15 percentage points between 2010 and 2011. That’s the largest one-year jump recorded for any industry in any year since the Harris RQ Survey began.

What industries are bouncing along the bottom? Predictably, it’s financial services firms and oil companies.

But the news from this survey is, on balance, quite positive. In fact, Harris found that there were actually more individual companies rated “excellent” than has ever been recorded in the history of the survey. Considering the sorry state of the economy and how badly many brands have been battered, that result is nothing short of amazing

Disappointing News from Both Sides of Business

Amazon logoCaterpillar logoTwo announcements this week from opposite ends of the economy prove how challenged the business environment continues to be. On the “old industry” front, Caterpillar has announced that it will be permanently cutting ~2,500 employees from its operations.

At the same time, a few hundred hourly workers are being called back by Caterpillar to select factories that manufacture certain types of road construction equipment. That softened the blow a bit, but the overall message is clear: Despite the expected growth in infrastructure projects, the stimulus legislation isn’t having much if any “ripple” effect on related or ancillary business segments.

On the other end of the scale is the über-hip, “new economy” Amazon – an enterprise that has achieved so much success selling products of all kinds online. But Amazon seems to have laid an egg in one product category: selling fine wines. After spending several years attempting to organize a mail-order business around wine products – even with the enthusiastic cooperation of boutique wineries all across the country – Amazon has had to throw in the towel on this enterprise.

The hurdles that turned out to be so insurmountable? Everything from the logistics of shipping products that must be delivered directly to the recipients’ hands to avoid problems with perishability … to the Byzantine state laws that regulate the shipment of wine across state lines. (Taken as a whole, those laws are probably more complicated than the provisions of the health care insurance reform bills being debated on Capitol Hill!)

In the end, even the vaunted Amazon – so used to success in practically everything it undertakes – has had to give up on trying to sort through the myriad governmental laws and regulations along with the challenges of wine shipping and delivery, while also turning a profit on the enterprise.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time Amazon has gotten burned in this business. Back in the late 1990s, the company sank ~$30 million into an ill-fated venture with Wineshopper.com that likewise came to nothing. I guess when your company is made up of mostly twenty-something-aged workers, the institutional memory is pretty short!

Sour grapes, anyone?