How to Make Your Brand Nice, Not Naughty

December 21, 2017

 

Earlier this year, we covered some of the most cringeworthy branding mistakes companies made in 2017 that would land them on the naughty list. Now we’ll go even further and tell you what matters most in establishing and maintaining your brand’s reputation.

 

You may not care where you fall on Mr. Kringle’s list, but he’s not the only one taking down names. Ever heard of a little thing called the Harris Poll Reputation Quotient?

 

Making a List, Checking It Twice

 

Since 1999, this survey is the most robust measure of corporate reputation to date. The Harris Poll evaluates big name companies every year on 20 attributes that fall into six categories: social responsibility, vision and leadership, financial performance, products and services, emotional appeal and workplace environment. Here’s a breakdown of the attributes:

 

 

Amazon, Johnson & Johnson and Disney were a few of the companies that scored highest in the poll, while BP, Goldman Sachs and Takata proved to have the worst reputations.

 

However, who ranks where matters less than the methodology behind the scoring. The survey pulls data from thousands of American respondents, so these ratings are a true indication of public opinion.

 

That said, these ratings are subject to change year by year. The good thing about public opinion is that it’s never set in stone. Even if a company screws up big time, they can usually make amends with a smart public relations strategy.

 

Take it from Santa’s favorite soda company, Coca-Cola.

 

From Naughty to Nice: A Lesson from Santa’s Favorite Soda

 

 

With its intricate ties to the cocaine industry and its contribution to America’s obesity epidemic, you’d think Coca-Cola would be a suitable candidate for the naughty list.

 

Despite these offenses, however, the company has dominated the soda industry for over a century and even to this day has a stellar reputation score on the Harris Poll. So does it get a free pass because it’s Santa’s favorite guilty pleasure, or is it something else?

 

The Coca-Cola Company is amazingly resilient for a few reasons. The first is its extensive history that makes it a trusted and iconic brand. Familiarity is a powerful force.

 

In fact, researchers compared Coke and Pepsi in a series of blind and non-blind taste tests. The study used fMRI machines to measure participants’ brain activity while tasting the products. In the blind taste tests, participants preferred Pepsi and experienced higher levels of activity in the area of the brain that mediates flavor processing.

 

Here’s where it gets interesting though. In the non-blind taste tests, participants favored Coke and experienced higher activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory and decision-making processes.

 

The lead researcher inferred that these results could be due to people’s familiarity with the brand and associations between the product and its ad campaigns. For the consumer, reputation trumps product quality, and that’s something Coca-Cola will always have over Pepsi. But why?

 

Refer back to those corporate reputation dimensions, and it’s clear to see why Coca-Cola dominates the industry.

 

The company does extensive philanthropic work. Since its establishment in 1984, the Coca-Cola Foundation has given back over $820 million to communities around the globe. These efforts boost people’s perceptions of the company’s social responsibility, emotional appeal and even financial performance.

 

As Robert Fronk, senior vice president of Nielsen Reputation Management and Public Affairs, says, “Coke takes several actions that give it the perception of strong financial performance. It invests money in its communities and has strong product development—things that lead people to believe they’re maintaining strong profitability.”

 

Coca-Cola never shies away from innovation and experimenting with products, even when they end up being disastrous. Through all the ups and downs, the key to its resilience is its ability to adapt to what people want. Here’s the opening statement from the company’s “Our Way Forward” campaign page:

 

When your company name is recognized around the world—seen everywhere from the sides of rural barns to the awnings of city bodegas—it’s critical to listen to what people want and need from you. And as people’s tastes and lifestyles change from day to day, from generation to generation, we must change alongside, too.

 

Boom. This is why consumer insights are invaluable to branding.

 

However, consumers aren’t the only ones the company wants to please. Coca-Cola offers its employees extensive benefits and a positive work environment, which covers the last dimension for the Harris Poll.

 

Major Takeaways: Be N.I.C.E.

 

Now you can see why Coca-Cola has such a stellar reputation, but not every company can afford to spend millions on philanthropic endeavors and market research.

 

Don’t worry though, there are easy ways for companies to boost their reputation without straining their budget. Be N.I.C.E. with these simple tips:

 

Navigate the market. Do a little research to see what consumers and/or clients in your market find appealing. This doesn’t have to involve expensive focus groups or survey testing. A simple web search can help you identify the qualities people want that will help you establish your niche and beat the competition. It’s important to gather these insights periodically, since the market is always subject to change.

 

Invest in your people. Making your employees happy increases their productivity and yields greater organizational success. Plus, they’ll work with you longer, so you won’t spend nearly as much money on turnover. When it comes to branding, your employees can either be your best brand ambassadors or your worst saboteurs. Take care of them by offering good benefits, growth opportunities and a positive work culture.

 

Care for your community. Community outreach carries immense weight when it comes to branding. It can help your company grow a loyal base, maintain authenticity and relevance, drive innovation based on consumer preferences and much more. Provide your employees with local volunteer opportunities that you can do as a group. These activities can lead to internal bonding and great exposure for your business. When you give back to your community, you get a lot back in return.

 

Expand your digital presence. Every company needs an online presence. Otherwise, it might as well not exist. Your website, social media and rating sites like Yelp, Glassdoor and Google are the best platforms for promoting your brand’s reputation. Most importantly, these outlets give people the opportunity to interact with your company in a way they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Using these tools will expand your brand recognition, establish your company character and values, as well as offer transparency to make your company feel more authentic and personable.

 

These tips will not only keep your brand off the naughty list but also make your business more successful. After all, nobody wants to work for or buy from a company with a bad reputation.

 

Be nice—because even if Santa doesn’t notice, everyone else will.

 

Merry Christmas!

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ASA Genius Award 2017
ASA Genius Award 2017
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