Picture this. You’re at a Gourmerican burger joint chomping a cheeseburger, when an outspoken vegan friend starts preaching that you’re killing the planet. Last week, that same vegan downed a pricey glass of pinot before their flight to a far-flung destination, armed with their strongest mossie repellant and first aid kit. Anything amiss?
Judging by its huge sales numbers and unrivaled consumer interest in its products, you'd think that no company in the tech arena was more beloved than Apple. Think again. It turns out Samsung is the "most reputable" tech company in the world, at least according to a recent survey of more than 5000 consumers.
Reputation Institute has studied consumer attitudes for more than a decade, and in its ranking it considers seven categories that measure customers' "emotional connections" to brands or companies. Of the 50 tech companies ranked in the 2015 U.S. Technology RepTrak report, Samsung lead the pack, while Apple ranked twenty-first and Facebook came in thirty-ninth.
After Samsung, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Google and software maker SAP, received the highest "pulse scores," or composite ratings that take into account products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership, and financial performance.
Intel, the giant chipmaker, received the highest rating for its products and services, and the company was sixth in the overall ranking of tech companies. This is somewhat surprising because very few consumers buy microprocessors on their own -- they come installed in computers and other products. Perhaps Intel simply won over consumers with its massive marketing budget and catchy "Intel Inside" campaign.
What about Apple and Facebook?
Its poor rating doesn't have much to do with the popularity of the iPhone compared to Samsung's Galaxy phones. Both sell very well. Apple's relatively low popularity score is related to factors other than its products, according to Brad Hecht, Reputation Institute's chief researcher. "Apple is not perceived as a company that is open, authentic and looking out for the interests of its customers," Hecht says.
During the past five years, Reputation Institute's survey participants have put more and more weight on factors such as good corporate citizenship and governance, meaning a company "behaves ethically and is open and transparent in its business dealings." How companies treat their workers is also an important factor, and Apple's reputation is still suffering from the high-profile labor scandal at Foxconn, the Chinese company that manufacturers iPhones and iPads. Though that was a number of years ago, and Apple has since taken steps to improve working conditions, socially conscious consumers haven't forgotten the incidents, Hecht says.
However, Apple acts more responsibly in some areas than it gets credit for, according to Hecht. All of its data centers are powered by green energy, for example, but the company doesn't actively publicize many of its eco initiatives.
Samsung, on the other hand, scores very well in categories related to corporate citizenship in addition to its high ratings in product categories.
It's not surprising that Facebook scored poorly in the company's survey. Facebook's constant incursions on user privacy, and its penchant for making unpopular changes to the user experience -- forcing customers to use a separate Messenger app, for example -- have damaged its reputation.
The results of the survey should be heartening. If consumers are becoming more conscious of companies' economic and societal impacts, that awareness could lead to improvements in corporate behavior, even if the motives for change are hardly altruistic.