Corporate image and your own staff

As companies grow older and larger they increasingly become concerned about their company reputation or “corporate image” as market researchers tend to call it.  What do customers - past, present and future, think of the company, its staff and its products?  What do they think of the company’s main competitors?  Is the company seen as producing good quality products?  Is it socially responsible in the current climate of equal opportunity?  Is it seen as increasing market share?  Is it seen as truly South African or is it being influenced by overseas pressures? etc. , etc


Corporate Image Market Research

These and many others are the questions that run through the minds of the top management and especially the chief executive.  His concern is voiced at the next Board Meeting and someone suggests doing an Image Survey to obtain some answers so that appropriate action may be taken.

The market researcher is called in and asked to prepare a market research plan for measuring the company reputation.  The market researcher points out that the company has a number of distinct ”Publics”, also called “Reference Groups”, that collectively affect its fortunes – The researcher points out that there are 10 main publics which should be looked at separately.  He listed the following:

  • Own staff
  • Wholesalers, Distributors and Agents
  • Retail Outlets (Shops, Supermarkets, Stores)
  • Present Customers
  • Potential Customers – those who have never used the company’s products
  • Stock Brokers / Bank Managers
  • Opinion Leaders (Managing Directors of “Blue Chip” companies, and Public Figures
  • Students and Scholars
  • The General Public
  • Specifiers who neither buy nor use the products, e.g. Architects, Consulting Engineers, Municipalities, Government Departments, etc.

And that all of them should be included in a Corporate Image study because all have ultimately an effect on the company’s fortunes, even if in an indirect way; however, the researcher’s function is also to cost the proposed survey and to balance the cost against its usefulness – and this is where the pruning begins.  Which of the Publics could possibly be discarded in order to reduce the cost of the survey?

In this brief discussion I will talk about only one of these Publics – the one that is the first to be discarded, even though it is one of the most vital to be included – the company’s own staff.  The general argument goes that Management already knows what staff thinks and although Management smiles benignly on its staff they should know their place and allow top management to make the marketing decisions.

And yet the companies who have, with considerable vision, agreed to include their staff as respondents in a survey have benefitted enormously from the attitudes and opinions of the very people they live with every working day of their lives.

Interviewing own staff requires skill which usually only an outside market research company has at its disposal.  The skill is required because on the one hand staff may be suspicious that what they have to say will not be kept confidential and on the other hand they may pour out their personal frustrations about their jobs and the problems they have with other staff members – which has nothing to do with the marketing related objectives that have been set for interviews.

The skilled market researcher will conduct the discussion along depth interview lines using a topic list but no questionnaire, which could act more as a deterrent to the interviews.  The objectives of the interview will cover whatever has been agreed with Management as being the purpose of the survey.  A type of projective technique in asking the questions is used whereby the staff member is asked to look at his company from two points of view – The one aspect is look at his company in terms of its marketing strengths and weaknesses from his expert internal knowledge of the company and the second aspect is to ask him to describe the way he thinks the outside world views the company.  The difference between the two viewpoints provides valuable information on the company.

The information is used to great advantage before embarking on a field survey by expanding on the objectives which may already have been set by Management. 

Consequently, a company carrying out a Corporate Image Study should think seriously before it down plays its own staff as participants in a survey.


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