Which are America’s Most Disliked Companies?

More than a few perennial “favorites” … plus a couple newcomers.

yuck factorI’ve blogged before about the companies Americans love to hate.  And now, 24/7 Wall St. has published this year’s list of America’s most disliked companies.  As the equity investment data aggregator and investment firm describes it:

“To be truly hated, a company must alienate a large number of people.  It may irritate consumers with bad customer service, upset employees by paying low wages and disappoint Wall Street with underwhelming returns.   

For a small number of companies, such failures are intertwined.  These companies managed to antagonize more than just one group and have become widely disliked.”

In developing its list each year, 24/7 Wall St. reviews various metrics on customer service, employee satisfaction and share price performance.

Only companies with large customer bases are evaluated, based on the premise that for a company to be widely disliked, it needs to be known to a large number of people to begin with.

Among the sources reviewed by 24/7 Wall St. are the following:

This year’s list of the most disliked companies includes the following:

logo#1  General Motors — More than 30 million recalls pertaining to vehicular problems that have been linked to more than 40 deaths brings this company to the top of the list … along with a lot of dissembling about the issue.

#2  Sony — The hacking of the company’s computers and the resulting chaos surrounding the (non)-release of the movie The Interview was just the latest in a string of bad news, including a string of financial losses and fruitless reorganization attempts that seem more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic than a recipe for righting the ship.

#3  DISH Network — Super-poor customer service ratings along with ongoing fights with the Fox network, leading to the blackout of popular programs that have done nothing but rile the customer base even more.

#4  McDonald’s — Its menu has lost favor with consumers — particularly when compared to competitors’ offerings.  Negative press about low employee wages doesn’t help, either.

#5  Bank of America — BofA can never seem to score above the average for its industry.  In fact, it’s been the least popular big bank in the ACSI surveys for years.  Even worse, Zogby Analytics has BofA with the second lowest share of “poor” reviews of any business in its 2014 customer service survey.  On top of that, the bank continues to have major problems in the mortgage sector, with a slew of fines levied to clean up mortgage practices that ran afoul of the U.S. regulators

#6  Uber — No doubt, this app-based ride sharing service is wildly popular with many users, even as it’s the bane of the traditional taxi business in major American and European urban centers.  But few companies so popular have faced as much controversy at the same time.  Perhaps it’s a natural side effect of being a disrupter in the market, but it’s caused many enemies for Uber in the process.

#7  Sprint Corporation — “The great disappearing phone service” might be one way to describe this firm.  Sprint has lost nearly 2.5 million customers in just the past two years.  In fact, it’s had 11 straight quarters of net decline in subscribers.  The result is lost employee jobs (2,000 and counting), along with reduced customer service and industry competitiveness.  And the share price of Sprint stock has fallen by half in the past year.

#8  Spirit Airlines — Imagine this list of maladies in the airline industry:  flight delays, long customer lines, invasive security, lost baggage, hidden fees.  Now imagine them all wrapped up in one air carrier and you have Spirit Airlines.  Enough said.

#9  Wal-Mart — According to ACSI, few companies have lower customer ratings than Wal-Mart.  It’s low even in comparison with other big-box discount and department stores, as well as supermarkets.  Its own employees also rate the company low — and there are 1.4 million of them, so their opinions really matter.  Meanwhile, some consumers see Wal-Mart as hurting or destroying local businesses wherever it chooses to open a store in a new community.

#10  Comcast — Whether we’re talking about its television or Internet services, this company comes in with really horrific customer satisfaction ratings.  They’re “standout bad” in an industry that’s infamous for poor customer care.  It didn’t help when a phone recording of a Comcast customer service representative went viral — the rep who took up nearly half an hour refusing to help a customer cancel his service.

[Interestingly a few companies that were on 24/7 Wall St.’s list last year no longer appear — notably retailers JCPenney and Abercrombie & Fitch.  For Penney’s in particular, it seemed a slam-dunk prediction that it would remain on the list this time around, but the company is actually in the midst of a modest turnaround — and consumers and investors have noticed.]

There’s another interesting and perhaps ironic factor about America’s “least liked” companies.  It’s that four of them also appear on the list of the ten most-advertised brands in the United States.

That is correct:  Based on 2013 U.S.-measured media ad spending as calculated by AdAge, Chevrolet (General Motors), McDonald’s, Walmart Stores and Sprint rank in the Top Ten list of the most-advertised brands:

  • untitled#1 AT&T
  • #2 Verizon
  • #3 GEICO
  • #4 Chevrolet (General Motors)
  • #5 McDonald’s
  • #6 Toyota
  • #7 Ford
  • #8 Walmart Stores
  • #9 Sprint
  • #10 Macy’s

Evidently, “all that advertising” isn’t doing “all that much” to burnish these brands’ image!

What are America’s “Most Influential” Brands?

Most influential brandsIn my most recent blog post, I reported on equity analysis firm 24/7 Wall Street and its take on the “most damaged” brands in the United States.

While there was pretty universal agreement among readers on most of the nine brands that had the dubious honor to make it on the list, there were several cases where some readers disagreed — Apple and J.P. Morgan Chase in particular.

Now, as an interesting comparative exercise looking at the other end of the scale, New York-based research company Ipsos MarketQuest polled Americans earlier this year on which brands they view as the “most influential” ones.

Of the 100 major brands included in the Ipsos survey and rated by respondents, here are the ten brands cited as most influential in the 2013 survey (in descending order of score):

  1. Google
  2. Amazon
  3. Apple
  4. Microsoft
  5. Facebook
  6. VISA
  7. Wal-Mart
  8. Yahoo!
  9. Proctor & Gamble
  10. eBay

Google leads the pack – and it’s hardly a surprise. But an important (and perhaps surprising) thing we notice is how pervasive technology, media and web-based brands are on the list.

Clearly, these are the types of companies that are increasingly influential in the lives of everyday Americans.

In fact, just three brands in the “Top 10 Most Influential” predate the personal computer era: VISA, Wal-Mart and Proctor & Gamble. And they rank relatively low on the list at #6, #7 and #9.

Moreover, let’s not forget that all three of these more “legacy-type” brands have actually been quite active in online and social media activities. Clearly, their senior management personnel realize that a good measure of future brand health lies in the same space where the other leading brands are active.

Apple: Brand Damage?Another interesting point that jumps out is when we compare the Ipsos “most influential” with the 24/7 Wall Street “most damaged” rankings. One brand stands out on both lists: Apple.

How can this be?

But on second thought, is it reall all so surprising? The 24/7 Wall Street inclusion was based on stock analysts’ reading of the company’s recent missteps and related share price declines … whereas the Ipsos list is based on the findings from a survey of “ordinary Americans.”

Applying the same comparative measures, I’m pretty sure the public’s view of General Motors stayed right up there long after the financial analysts had fled the stock and  relegated GM’s brand reputation to the basement.

But in the end, public opinion eventually followed the analysts, in part because GM’s efforts to turn around company performance proved spectacularly ineffective. It just took more time for that knowledge to seep into the collective consciousness.

For Apple, the big question is: Will its future actions mean that it stabilizes its brand reputation? Or, will its effort fall short, leading to a loss of consumer confidence?

Let’s check in again after 18-24 months and find out.

Car Company Conundrum: Auto Companies Try to Preserve Brand Loyalty

Big Three Automotive Manufacturers
The “Big Three” auto makers: Exactly how loyal are their customers?

Those of us “of a certain age” can remember the days of the Big Three U.S. auto makers. Each of them had a full brand lineup of vehicles designed to accompany a car owner’s pursuit of the American dream. For each step up the corporate or status ladder, there was a car perfectly suited for the event.

General Motors had its five “ascending” brands: Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac. Rival Chrysler Corporation had its five auto brands that tracked neatly with GMs: Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler and Imperial.

Ford Motor was a bit different in that it had only three flagship brands – Ford, Mercury and Lincoln – but the idea was the same. Capture the consumer at the very beginning … and stay with him or her for years thereafter. When I was growing up, I can recall friends who came from a GM family, a Ford family or a Chrysler family – such was the affinity and loyalty people felt for “their” car companies.

Fast-forward to today, and the picture is completely scrambled. Not only has the prestige – and market share – of the U.S. car companies plummeted in the face of strong competition from foreign-based car rivals, but the brand offerings of the Big Three [sic] have been telescoped severely.

GM is now down to three flagship car brands (Chevy, Buick and Cadillac), while Ford and Chrysler are down to two each (Ford and Lincoln … Chrysler and Dodge).

The rationale for the recent decisions to jettison brands was to gain better control over operating expenses. Moreover, the amount of true difference between some of the brands was modest at best. So the goal of the auto makers has been to retain the loyalty of buyers and shift them to the remaining brands, thereby controlling operating costs while keeping customers in the fold

How’s that working out for everyone?

Well … not exactly as planned. General Motors dropped Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer in the latest round of brand downsizing in 2009, but had hoped to keep most of the buyers of those vehicles in the GM family. Reportedly, there are ~3 million of these vehicles on the roads today. However, the Detroit News is reporting that a majority of these owners are opting for non-GM products when they’re in the market for a new vehicle – brands such as Honda, Nissan and Toyota.

In fact, statistics from auto research company J.D. Power & Associates show these sorry retention rates for GM during 2010:

 Hummer owners staying with GM: ~39%
 Pontiac owners staying with GM: ~36%
 Saturn owners staying with GM: ~26%

These figures compare to an industry-wide brand retention rate of ~48%.

The statistics on Saturn are probably the least surprising. After all, Saturn was promoted as “a new kind of car company” – presumably in stark contrast to other GM car brands as much as any rivals. It stands to reason that Saturn owners would probably find almost any other company preferable than staying with GM.

GM has certainly tried to keep its customers from straying – including offering special deals such as one-year free maintenance programs, discounts on new GM auto purchases, offers to test-drive GM cars, and special invitations and events to introduce customers to new GM dealers.

Some industry observers feel that GM miscalculated to a degree, in that the three brands dropped by the company had a measure of distinctness that is difficult to replicate in the remaining GM brands. J.D. Power’s Executive Director of U.S. Automotive Research, Steve Witten has noted, “The truth of the matter is they didn’t have many options for people to stay in the GM family. Now, there are holes.”

[It didn’t help either that some Saturn dealerships jumped the GM ship when the brand went away – taking many of their customers with them.]

What about Ford Motor’s experience in dropping the Mercury brand from its lineup? It turns out the news for them has been better. In fact, Ford has managed to hold on to ~46% of Mercury customers.

Ironically, the company has benefited from what might normally be considered a brand weakness: the Ford and Mercury lines had very little differentiation between them. Thus, it has proven easier to shift Mercury owners to Ford vehicles as an alternative.

Chrysler went through its auto brand downsizing a bit earlier … the Imperial nameplate disappeared back in the 1980s (I know: I owned one of the last models manufactured) … while the Plymouth brand bit the dust seven years prior to the 2009 economic near-meltdown.

Instead, the big news at Chrysler has been its shift from one foreign parent company (Germany’s Daimler-Benz) to another (Italy’s Fiat). For many, the jury may still be out on the long-term viability of Chrysler – the next two or three years will be the acid test.

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

The Automotive Comeback Story of the Year?

2010 Chrysler Town & Country Minivan
Chrysler's Town & Country minivan: On top of the charts again.
Not surprisingly, the ongoing saga of the GM bailout and subsequent re-listing of General Motors on the New York Stock Exchange was the biggest automotive news story of 2010.

But in what may be the more surprising comeback story, the Chrysler Town & County minivan is poised to regain the top spot in a segment that Chrysler once dominated, going all the way back to when the first minivan rolled off the assembly line in the early 1980s.

But in recent years, beset by organization troubles along with spirited competition from other domestic and imported automakers, Chrysler had lost its first-rank position to the Honda Odyssey while its overall share of the minivan market declined.

For December, the Town & Country’s unit sales were over 102,000, compared to the Odyssey’s ~98,000. Chrysler’s sister brand, Dodge, racked up minivan unit sales of ~89,000, the same as the Toyota Sienna. That puts Chrysler on pace to lead the minivan pack for all of 2010 and reclaim the sales crown.

It’s no secret that Chrysler considers the minivan to be one of the keys to its brand identity – and a key component of its comeback strategy. “Our goal is regaining leadership. We consider we own it and we need to regain what once belonged to us,” the Detroit News quotes Olivier Francois, head of the Chrysler brand, as saying.

[Another reason Chrysler might have lost its edge over the years in the “minivan derby” was a perception of quality issues and the way its vehicles handled. But speaking as someone whose family has driven Chrysler minivans since 1990 – and currently owns four Dodge Caravans spanning ten years’ worth of model years – we’ve never encountered any major quality issues beyond the expected maintenance requirements for vehicles we routinely run for close to 200,000 miles each.]

If a car maker is making a major push for product sales, it makes sense to place more inventory in the showrooms for consumers to buy. Significant “upgrades” to Dodge and Chrysler minivans are being introduced for 2011, and greater numbers of vehicles will be delivered to dealerships, it’s being reported.

Of course, no one believes that Chrysler’s goal to maintain the sales crown for minivans will be slam-dunk easy. Japanese automakers are introducing their own all-new minivan models in 2011.

And why not? They’re seeing an increase in consumer interest in the minivan segment just like everyone else. While no one expects sales of minivans to return to the stratospheric levels of the late 1990s, stories about the “death” of the minivan that were being published in more recent years have now completely disappeared from the newswires.

One of the interesting questions Chrysler will be facing in the coming years is whether to continue to cultivate two separate minivan nameplates or to consolidate them into one. Chrysler has tended to lavish more “design” attention on the Town & Country and more “performance” focus on the Dodge Caravan. As a result, the Town & Country is now more popular with female consumers and the Caravan more popular with men.

This “gender-focused” targeting finds its penultimate manifestation this year with the introduction of Dodge Caravan’s so-called “man-van” – a high-performance version of the Grand Caravan featuring a “macho” all-black interior with red stitching. Can’t wait for one of these show up in the auto showroom!