Sherpas to Help Build Reputation

May 21, 2012

Sherpas to Help Build Reputation

The New York Times had a very interesting article yesterday for a variety of reasons. But one reason that hit the spot was about how consumers make decisions and how the author went about choosing the right baby formula for his infant. After he and his wife researched every possible formula on the market and found that they were all basically the same, he came to this conclusion:

“Despite knowing this, I still insist on paying twice as much for Enfamil, which its maker claims is “scientifically designed.” (Aren’t they all?) I splurge because Mead Johnson is a 107-year-old company that has been promoting a single baby-formula brand for more than 50 years. I figure that it’s less likely to squander its name by skirting the rules or engaging in shoddy manufacturing than a company with less to lose. This peace of mind costs me about $7 per day.”

This is emblematic of our research on how the company behind the brand matters more than ever. The author was reassured in his purchase of Enfamil because he learned that the company behind it, Mead Johnson, had been around long enough that they were not going to risk their century-old reputation by messing around with the manufacturing and production of  its baby formula.  The parent company made a significant difference in a confirming to the writer that this was the better buy, even at a premium. And not only did this infant get to taste Enfamil but the writer blasted his choice around the world. There you go for serendipity public relations.

After reading this gem which was fairly upfront in the article, I kept reading.  The Enfamil example led into the article’s main message which is that information overload is plaguing us all and making it increasingly hard to find what we are looking for unless we want to devote days to researching.  “Too much information, it turns out, is a lot like no information.”  Therefore to deal with this information smog, people need guides orsherpas to guide their way through the data chaos. According to the author, “economists have a name for these cues that companies employ to convey their hidden strength: signaling.”

Reputation-building uses the strategy of signaling.  Good reputations serve as a shorthand to identify whom you want to buy from. A company that is a best place to work for or most sustainable or trains its leaders best helps to narrow the choices between products. Do I want to buy my infant formula from a company that treats its people right? You bet.  The thinking goes like this: if they treat their employees well,you can make the leap that they turn out safe products.  In our research on parent brands, we had an open-ended question on why the parent company mattered when buying a product brand. Over and over, consumers mentioned that knowing the parent brand helped them sort out which products to buy. For example, one consumer said: “The integrity of a company will ultimately show in its products.”

The article also made me think about anniversary celebrations. Many companies make a big deal about how long they have been in busines — 50, 100 or 200 years. It turns out that it is good to do so in order to remind consumers and other stakeholders that there’s alot of reputational equity behind those promises.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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