Evolving Reputation Measurement

August 21, 2017
Ed Coke

Like all established disciplines, the study of reputation has numerous measurement systems in place to quantify arguably the least tangible of corporate assets.

And whilst these various models and approaches have had a positive impact in helping to make reputation a Boardroom agenda item, I would argue the time is right for new thinking to provide clients with better insight, focused on the right questions, asked of the most relevant audiences.

What do I mean by this? For starters, my belief is the majority of reputation measurement systems focus too much on consumer opinions. Yes, this stakeholder group is important to many companies – but not to the exclusion of other audiences, who very often have a greater impact in shaping a company’s reputation.

For example, why should a pharmaceutical company focus on consumers to understand its reputation better, if their business model is predominantly dependent upon the support of healthcare professionals, the regulatory community and NGOs? Surely clients in this industry can gain better insight through highly targeted research among those more influential audiences, rather than just less well-informed ‘end users’ with little say in shaping the destiny of a drug manufacturer?

Secondly, the evolution of brand equity measurement has taught us the power of emotion typically triumphs over rational attributes when stakeholders form judgments about companies - regardless of which audience they belong to. Reputation measurement should not simply be a ‘quiz’ asking people what they know of a company’s governance structure, its financial performance or what it is like to work for. My sense is that people tend not to compartmentalise their thoughts about a company in this way. Furthermore, how likely are they to know that much about an organisation if they only have limited experience of its detailed workings?

I might know a bit about my Samsung phone, but I have no idea what it’s like to work at that company. However, I do know what I love about John Lewis, what makes me angry about Sports Direct, and what makes me worried about Uber. Surely it is the link between these emotions and a company’s reputation that offers more meaningful insight to a client than a scorecard of rational dimensions alone?

How we derive these emotional insights is also ripe for change. Neuroscience has played an increasingly important role in assessing underlying emotions in brand research; reputation measurement should be adopting types of insights like implicit association techniques as standard to really enrich client awareness of the emotional impacts of their reputations.

Finally, reputation measurement needs to act as a guide to future client actions, not simply a rear-view mirror. To help the client’s next steps, we need a better, more accurate understanding of how stakeholders will act on their emotions. What are the catalysts to positive or negative advocacy? What role does reputation play in purchase decisions? And at what point does short-term sentiment become long-term behaviour?

It may take the reputation measurement industry some time to address all these questions and optimise its thinking, but right now I believe clients would welcome new thinking to help protect and enhance their most precious asset.