The poll asked survey participants two open-ended questions: Which companies did they think had the best reputations last year? And which had the worst? The firm then took the 100 most-mentioned companies and asked more than 25,000 consumers how they view each brand on a variety of criteria including social responsibility and financial performance.
Overall, Amazon took the top spot for the third year in a row (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post). The list covers a variety of industries. This year, air bag manufacturer Takata rounded out the bottom, just below the Weinstein Company.
A slip in reputation doesn't necessarily spell doom for a company said David Schweidel, a professor at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business. (Apple, for example, recently hit a record high on the stock market in its pursuit of a trillion-dollar market cap.) Still, he said, the poll gets a sample of consumer sentiment that can be otherwise hard to measure. Those views can be valuable when taken into account with other surveys and story lines about the companies, such as the perception that Apple is losing its innovative touch.
John Gerzema, chief executive of Harris Insights, attributed Apple's and Google's slide to a failure to deliver big products that fit into people's everyday lives. Consumer sentiment toward companies is often cyclical, he said, and for tech it is closely tied to what products come out that year. While Apple and Google released many products, including Apple's iPhone X and Google's Home Mini and Home Max, the poll indicates those gadgets didn't seem to resonate with the average person.
“The story for me this year is that tech has got to provide utility and be tangible,” Gerzema said. “Apple had a down year on innovation — from the Apple Watch to a really expensive X phone for $1,000.”
Apple and Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the rankings.
Overall, the index showed that consumers appeared to favor firms that are making bold statements about their values and engaging in public conversations. Two companies that have been public about their policy views made the top 10 this year: outerwear company Patagonia, which sued President Trump over his cuts to the Bears Ears National Park, and fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, which took a stand against gay marriage. Gerzema said that another brand on the upswing this year, Tesla, was probably bolstered by the innovative reputation of its outspoken founder, Elon Musk, and its association with Musk's company SpaceX, which has worked with the government to jump-start space exploration.
Consumers are increasingly drawn to companies that are “stepping into this bit of dysfunction in government and paralysis,” Gerzema said. “That’s a big opportunity for the tech companies to go to that place.”