What This Year's Surveys Say, and Fail to Say

Article excerpt

Simon Williams sees about a dozen new surveys about corporate brand value and reputation a month, all of which ask different questions to different groups of people.

"Comparing and analyzing the results is itself a study," said Mr. Williams, the president and chief executive officer of the Sterling Group, a brand-consulting firm in New York.

In this special report, American Banker aims to make that task easier for its readers by organizing and analyzing data from eight studies measuring the brand strength and reputations of dozens of financial services companies - three consumer surveys, three of high-level executives, and two that seek to put a dollar value on brand names.

Across the surveys, some financial firms stood out, including Wachovia Corp., Washington Mutual Inc., and Bank of America Corp.

But a closer look shows that the results are often mixed, even for the some of the apparent top performers.

And at least one company- Citibank - saw dramatic shifts in its rankings among the surveys featured here, topping one consumer survey and finishing last in another.

Citibank ranked highest among the banks in a survey by Harris Interactive Inc. that asked consumers about their familiarity with a brand. (See story on page 7.) Those with enough familiarity then rated the brand's quality and their intent to purchase products and services, using a 10-point scale.

To receive a perfect brand equity score of 100, a brand would have to be "extremely familiar" to every respondent and then get a 10 on overall quality and purchase intent from those respondents. On this measure, Citibank received a brand equity score of 51.6. Its familiarity was 72%, with a 6.40 for quality and a 6.26 for purchase intent.

But Citi finished last in a Forrester Research Inc. study that assesses customer advocacy. (See story on page 11.) Only 22% of its customers agreed that Citi does what's best for them instead of what's best for its own bottom line.

In a survey by Brand Keys Inc., which specializes in tracking customer loyalty, Citibank's customer service and cost of services hurt its overall ranking, said Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys' president. (See story on page 18.)

Though Citibank did not comment on specific rankings, a spokesman said survey results can vary greatly according to methodology and geographies polled. "For instance, we would expect to score much higher in areas where we have branch banking, because we have more extensive, face-to-face relationships with our customers there," he said.

Timothy E. Teran, director of consumer insights in Citigroup's global marketing group, said brand is important to the company. "We are constantly striving to strengthen our brand based on what matters to our customers," Mr. Teran said.

Experts say properly analyzing any survey requires a close look at who was polled, what they were asked, and when. Generally the questions vary widely, so that a different assessment is presented in each case.

In the end, most surveys offer a limited view of a brand, experts say.

"There is no single method that is the end-all and be-all," said Andrew Pierce, a senior partner in the Boston office of the brand strategy firm Lippincott Mercer.

A more complete picture would give a range of perspectives, including those of employees and investors, Mr. Pierce said.

Though some surveys do poll some of these groups of stakeholders, several professionals be-moaned the lack of a standard measuring stick.

"I think one of the mistakes that's happened over the years is everything gets called a reputation survey, when in fact they are evaluating a very segmented part of the reputation," said Charles Fombrun, executive director of the Reputation Institute in New York.

He said Fortune magazine's Most Admired Companies survey might be more accurately called a financial reputation survey. …