In addition to having a bevy of product choice, the public today has almost as many options when it comes to the companies they choose to buy from. And while factors like price, availability and selection are often big drivers along the path to purchase, there’s no denying the importance of a company’s reputation. In fact, reputation is increasingly being recognized as a fundamental business asset that companies can leverage to maintain and drive increased business. Around the world, a company’s reputation is an undeniably important lens through which purchase decisions are made.
And whether it’s because of a company’s sustainability initiatives, social media efforts, tech savviness or even its physical location, “Opinion Elites” (people who are more informed, engaged and active when it comes to social and business issues) around the world are increasingly inquisitive and knowledgeable about the companies they choose to buy from. In fact, there are signs that they’ve never been more interested in the reputation of companies they do business with.
According to findings from a 2014 Nielsen study among Opinion Elites in 16 countries about corporate reputation, this group actively learns about companies, often before they make purchases. And that means they’re likely not to buy from companies that don’t measure up for one reason or another. Corporate reputation – including things such as corporate character, the social role the company plays, and what it delivers to the marketplace – is increasingly key when it comes to business success.
Unlike times past, digital connectivity gives consumers access to more information than they likely know how to handle. This rapidly widening realm of hyper-connectivity makes brushing up on a company as easy as a swipe of a finger or the click of a mouse. And just like that, a consumer can quickly transition from prospective customer to someone who’s ready to explore what the competition has to offer.
Social media plays a major role in the court of public opinion, and court is always in session. Not only can conversations on social media dramatically expand a subject and its reach, they can influence purchase decisions. In addition, there’s never been a time in history where the public has had the direct 24 hour access to companies like they do now, and that access is a forum that’s open for the whole world to see.
But Opinion Elites aren’t just using social media to learn about companies for themselves. According to the study, 54% of Opinion Elites globally said they increasingly hear of what’s going on with companies through social media, and an additional 35% said they shared information about a company with others through social media or email in the past year. Their efforts to influence others span both the real and virtual worlds–37% said they proactively tried to influence their friends’ and family’s perceptions about a company because of something they learned about how it conducts itself. So, it’s clear that Opinion Elites are in a strong position to amplify… or not…. a company’s reputational story.
If companies fail to question how they are being perceived instead of how they would like to be perceived, their ignorance could cost them. While the findings of the reputation study are somewhat intuitive, they validate how crucial it is for companies to take their reputations seriously—and use them to their advantage as a business asset. Key questions for companies include:
- How is my company using research to understand what’s relevant by market?
- Is my corporate behavior and messaging relevant and in line with the needs of the stakeholders that matter most to my business?
- How can I best manage my company’s reputation in order to unlock the investments I’m making in my brands and products?
The insights in this article were derived from Nielsen’s 2014 Global Reputation Study with Opinion Elites, the second annual installment of the study. The research consisted of a 25-minute, online survey conducted between Sept. 24 and Oct. 16, 2014, with 4,982 interviews across 16 markets. All Opinion Elites met the following criteria: aged 18+, follow national business issues closely, highly informed about those issues and regularly participate in influential behaviors. Results were weighted to be representative of key Opinion Elite population demographics present within each country sampled.