How your corporate reputation may be your biggest financial asset

Your organizational reputation may be intangible, but it has vital financial value as an asset. How can such an intangible concept be vital? Reputation can be the key reason people will support your organization: “People’s willingness to buy, recommend, work for and invest in a company is driven 60% by their perceptions of the company, and only 40% by their perceptions of their products,” according to Kasper Ulf Nielsen from the Reputation Institute. In this way, a significant amount of every organization’s financial worth is based on its reputation. Stakeholder perceptions are what it is about. Therefore, your corporate reputation may be your biggest financial asset.

The estimated contribution that public perceptions add to the market value of a company is its reputation capital. Favorable perceptions add to reputation capital; unfavorable perceptions reduce it.

Corporate reputation may be your biggest financial asset

Sometimes reputation is the biggest single organizational asset, especially with big brands. For instance, the reputation capital of some top US companies was more than half of their market value in 2021, including Apple (57%), Amazon (56%), Alphabet [parent company of Google] (56%), Microsoft (55%), Johnson & Johnson (53%), Target (53%), Walmart (52%), and Nike (52%), according to data in the annual Reputation Dividend 2021 report. Obviously, there was a wide spread over the full list of S&P 500 companies, which averaged close to 30% overall.

Also, in 2021, Apple had around US$1,248 billion worth of reputation capital, and Microsoft had $1,062 billion. More than a trillion each! There is no doubt that their corporate reputation is their biggest asset.

Image, right: US Market Value and Reputation Contribution S&P 500 data by Reputation Dividend.

In the UK, measured by the 2021 results for the FTSE 350 companies, individual reputation assets accounted up to 56.6% of individual companies’ market capitalizations, according to Reputation Dividend’s UK 2021 report. Overall, reputation assets contributed more than a third (33.8%) on average of the combined market market capitalization of the FTSE index.

Measuring the value of reputation

Specialist firms in reputation assessment can measure the value of reputation by analyzing the various components that stakeholders consider the most important. The value of each factor can be compared against the relative value all the other significant factors adding up to stakeholder perceptions of the organization.

For instance, the Reputation Institute measures a company’s capacity to meet stakeholder expectations on 7 general dimensions of reputation:

  • Products and services
  • Innovation
  • Workplace
  • Governance
  • Citizenship
  • Leadership
  • Performance

By using these general dimensions for organizations, the consultants can compare corporate reputations of organizations within and between specific industries.

Measurable changes to market value due to reputation changes

Analysis by Reputation Dividend in 2021 found almost 30% of the top 500 US [public] companies’ overall market performance could be attributed to the non-financial factors associated with their respective corporate reputation. This was equivalent to US$11.2 trillion across the S&P 500! In various cases, corporate reputation may be the biggest asset of various companies in the top 500.

Measurable share price falls caused by reputation problems

Public companies are important for such calculations because the impact of non-financial factors can be measured by changes in their share price. Financial losses from operational problems or crises can’t totally account for a plunge in share price or business profits in most situations – reputational factors play a big part. For instance:

  • Facebook suffered the largest stock market drop in value in history in 2018, losing $120 billion in share value. The company had failed to protect the private and personal data of 87 million users, and doesn’t seem to learn from its mistakes. The company just seems to continue on regardless, despite further “jaw-dropping” exposes of Facebook’s business practices by the Wall Street Journal in 2021, prompting further critical commentary in the New York Times. Shira Ovide, in a Times opinion column on 28 September 2021, headed up “Facebook isn’t scandal-proof,” with a subheading of “This social network may finally be paying the price for its bad reputation, said “…look closely and there are signs that ingrained mistrust of Facebook may be wearing away its non-stick coating. I’m reminded of a comment by Uber’s chief executive a few years ago: “There is a high cost to a bad reputation.”
  • US Wells Fargo bank share price effectively plunged by 20% from 2014 to 2016 when the bank was caught up in a prolonged scandal after admitting to creating several million fake customer accounts that led to employees receiving unearned incentive commissions, and 5,300 hourly (casual) employees losing their jobs. The bank was obliged to pay over $1 billion in fines, and billions more in settlements of law suits.
  • The share price of the Carnival shipping line dropped by 18% after one of its cruise ships sank when it hit underwater rocks off Tuscany in 2012, with the loss of 33 lives.
  • BP’s share price crashed by 53% after the Deepwater Horizon oil production platform caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, causing the largest accidental oil spill in history and the loss of 11 lives.
  • Volkswagen group’s overall revenue dropped 5% in the first half of 2016, the group’s share price tumbled around 40% from May 2015 to October 2016, its share of the European auto market fell, and it laid off 30,000 employees in the wake of its diesel emissions scandal continued to hit the group after the scandal started in September 2015.

What do you think are the key components of your organization’s reputation? How would you go about measuring its reputation? Would you be bold enough to say to your top management that corporate reputation may be the biggest asset of your organization?

Reputation case study

As Corporate Affairs Manager for the Western Power electricity utility, I established a corporate reputation composite index, using the expertise of a market research firm to develop the index. Western Power is a government-owned trading enterprise, and so it did not have a market value, and therefore its reputational value could not be calculated in the same way as for a public company.

In this project, the first step was to conduct qualitative research among focus groups to determine the factors that household customers considered important to the organization’s corporate reputation.

The 14 factors identified from the qualitative research were categorized into 8 broad areas:

  • Emergency management – capability of dealing with emergency situations such as storm damage.
  • Safety – ensuring the highest level of public and employee safety at all times.
  • Product – providing an excellent service to all customers and offering a reliable and quality power supply.
  • Customer focus – valuing customers, understanding their views, listening to their needs.
  • Environment – being environmentally responsible.
  • Communication and education – providing sufficient information and communicating well with the public.
  • Reputation – being well-managed, known for treating employees well and portraying a good public image.
  • Social responsibility – caring about the community.

Quantitative research was then conducted by telephone survey of 1,400 people at home who indicated they were the person in their household who most dealt with the utility. The sample size was reliable to 3% within a 95% confidence level.

A composite index was formed by (1) scoring each factor according to its relative importance to the public as indicated in the survey feedback, and (2) scoring their estimate of the utility’s actual performance on each factor. Then the two figures for each factor were multiplied together. These results were calculated for all 8 factors and added together for a possible overall score out of a maximum of 100, with a higher score indicating higher satisfaction.

Corporate reputation index

FiguresYear 1Year 2  Year 3Year 4Year 5

Having measured the corporate reputation result in the first year, targets were set for future years. (The target figure set for years 4 and 5 was reduced due to expected changes in community attitudes due to planned organizational restructuring and cost cutting.)

In considering the components of corporate reputation, above, you can see that many of the variables are outside the control of the communication professionals. A senior manager actually tried to make reputation a KPI of the Corporate Affairs function, but I pushed back on the grounds that actions speak louder than words, and therefore actions by field employees were more important in public perceptions than any actions taken by Corporate Affairs.

In addition…

My longform article, “Why a good corporate reputation is vital, especially during these COVID-19 times,” can give you some further helpful insights into the tangible value of a corporate reputation.

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

Content Authenticity Statement. AI is not knowingly used in the writing or editing of any content, including images, in these newsletters, articles or ebooks. If AI-produced content is contained in any published form in future, this will be reported to readers.

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