Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Annual Rankings for Most Trusted Companies for Privacy

By Jarvis Cromwell

Privacy, identify theft and data breaches remain trust flash points for organizations. The latest ranking for most-trusted companies for privacy in 2008 from the Ponemon Institute and
TRUSTe finds American Express eBay and IBM are the top three most trusted companies.

As the chart below indicates, Google is no longer ranked among the top 20 most trusted companies for privacy, while Apple, Facebook, and Yahoo make the list for the first time.

One of the most important findings from the survey for would-be corporate trustmeisters is the gap developing between the importance privacy holds with consumers and the lack of control they feel over their personal information.

  • Seventy-three percent of consumers say the protection of their personal privacy is “important” or “very important,” up from 69 percent in 2006.
  • Only 45% feel they have control over their personal information, down from 56% percent in 2006.

Greater transparency is available to consumers on this issue from organizations like Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, which posts an online chronological database of data breaches that would scare anybody based on the depth and breadth of the list.

Despite the current financial climate, Amex retained the top spot in this year’s list, and Nationwide and Charles Schwab all managed to retain their top 10 rankings as well.

The study asked 6,486 adult-aged US consumers which companies they thought were most trustworthy and which did the best job safeguarding personal information. A total of 706 companies were named by consumers and 211 made the final list of most trusted companies.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Kids Restaurant Chain Risks It All (Stephanie Fierman)

Wow, Chuck E. Cheese has a problem.

The Wall Street Journal ran a half-page story in Section A yesterday that would cause any parent to run for the hills. While CEC describes itself as a place "where a kid can be a kid" and the cover of its 2007 Annual Report boasts "The Evolution of Fun," it appears that the actual stores have become a magnet for bad behavior and danger. Police all over the U.S. have been dealing with fights, guests carrying weapons and boozed-up brawls.chuck-e-cheese-stephanie-fierman.jpg

When a public official
describes his local Chuck E. Cheese as "something out of a Quentin Tarantino film," you know you have a serious problem. The picture at right shows the CEC in said politician's Milwaukee neighborhood - with an armed guard out front.

A simple glance at Google tells the Web 2.0 tale. Of 9 front-page search results for "Chuck E. Cheese," 5 are negative. Of 10 front-page results for "McDonalds," 0 are negative.

So where is the crisis management plan and what is the company doing about this problem? While the company's head of marketing describes the fights and problems as "atypical," the risk to a corporation is not always volume-based. Only one child or parent needs to die in one of these melees for CEC to get sued into the ether.

Not only is (a) taking aggressive action and then (b) broadly communicating your plan the "right thing to do," it ultimately protects the bottom line and shareholder value. Take the saddest, most base scenario: if the company gets sued over a child's death, it will be in far better stead with the courts - and the public - if it can show an active, consistent and good-faith effort to address this problem. Such an effort could very well include suffering a short-term revenue hit by closing the most troubled locations in the near 500-location chain. And continuing to serve alcohol in most stores is a recipe for disaster. What percentage of revenue coming from alcohol sales -
at children's birthday parties - is worth a legal debacle that effectively cripples the company?

I frequently refer to the
Tylenol poisonings in 1982 and J&J's decision to pull all U.S. product off the shelves even after it was determined that the company had no involvement in the tragedy. This may well be the best example in memory of a company taking the long view.

There is a range of choices CEC can take. At the lower end of the range, management needs to take action in its own backyard to resolve these issues. At the higher end, welcome Alderman Zielinski in as a valued advisor. Hold a press conference with him in Milwaukee where he ceremoniously padlocks his neighborhood location while you rightfully announce that no amount of money is worth putting people's lives in danger. Ask Zielinski to help you create a national "Having Fun Can Be Safe" campaign nationwide.

Wherever CEC lands on this spectrum, it had better act quickly. This is a case where a short-term view could be literally deadly for everyone involved.

A version of this post also appears at

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Forrester Groundswell Team Reports Low Trust in Company Blogs

By Jarvis Cromwell for The Reputation Garage

Forrester has just released a report on people's trust in company blogs.  The upshot?  Very few place a high degree of trust in corporate blogs as an information source.  Check it out HERE.

The report, authored by Josh Bernoff, who co-authored the book Groundswell, highlights a survey conducted in Q2 2008 that asked consumers how much trust they had in various information sources.  As you can see from the chart below, high trust goes to folks we know. The lowest trust ranking is assigned to company blogs -- with only 16% saying they have a high degree of trust in them.

Forrester and the Groundswell team are bringing fresh insight from the front lines of the social media world to a very important issue.  We've noted here in the Garage that trust in big companies (not just their blogs) reached its lowest ebb in a century in 2002 and hasn’t recovered.  Dozens upon dozens of research reports and studies confirm this from every conceivable angle.  That’s a big problem for business because trust is transactional – meaning that when there is a lot of trust it accelerates a transaction; and when there distrust it acts a clotting agent.  This dynamic applies to any transactions that involve human interaction -- whether a blog post, a sale, a conversation, an employee review, etc

David Ogilvy’s oft-quoted line from long ago “the customer is not an idiot, the customer is your wife” holds true here.  Most people don’t believe that big companies are in it for them.  The Groundswell team's proscriptive advice to make corporate blogs places where companies truly listen, converse, and help their customers is dead on.   As is their advice that companies stop and think before joining the “groundswell.”  

These are practices worthy of any true trustmeister!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Low Trust Word of the Year Courtesy of Merriam-Webster

By Jarvis Cromwell for The Reputation Garage

A majority of the most-looked up words in the online Merriam-Webster dictionary once again reflect the current historically low public trust environment.   In this year’s top ten the standout candidate for low-trust word of the year is “vet”, which comes in at #2.

Webster’s top ten list for 2008, based on total number of searches of their online dictionary, is as follows:

  1. Bailout
  2. Vet
  3. Socialist
  4. Maverick
  5. Bipartisan
  6. Trepidation
  7. Precipice
  8. Rogue
  9. Misogyny
  10. Turmoil

We doubt many people will have to look up the meaning of "bailout" in 2009.

The dictionary's list has been mirroring the low-trust environment for several years.  The #1 word for 2006, “truthiness,” was popularized that year by Stephen Colbert, who defined it as “truth that comes from the gut, not books.” Webster gives truthiness an alternative meaning as “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than facts known to be true”.

We suspect many of us will be looking for a little more “truthiness” in 2009.

Friday, December 05, 2008

10 Low-Cost Ways to Improve Employee Engagement in the Downturn

By Jarvis Cromwell for The Reputation Garage

High employee engagement is money in the bank.  As the graph opposite shows, companies considered the best to work for between 1998-2004 had a total stock market return of 176% versus 39% for the S&P 500.

But when it comes to engaging employees in this economic downturn, chances are you've got at least three problems. 1) Morale is at a low ebb (surveys have been tracking its decline across most large companies for a decade); 2) high levels of distrust in management limit your ability to rally the troops; and 3) even if you could figure out what to do, the current downturn leaves you with little or no money to address it.

Don’t sit around moping.  You’re a manager, so act. There are a number of things you can do that don’t have to break the bank to build trust and improve morale.  After all, you can't take the next hill (which is looking to be steep and well fortified) if you don't have the trust of your team.  The trick is to be consistent in your approach.  Here are ten tips from Forbes that would be a good start.

1) Give thanks

2) Pull them aside for a one-on-one

3) Value family time

4) Invest in their future

5) Surprise them

6) Engage them by handing out pet projects

7) Reward specific achievements

8) Get everyone involved and limit micro-management

9) Heavy up on encouraging a team approach

10) Focus more on fun and less relentlessly on cash

The learning for trustmeisters is that low levels of trust among employees hurts performance. Given the current environment, you'll need to work harder over the next year on this dimension of your job as a manager.  See the complete Forbes slide show of all ten tips HERE.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Diamond is a Cad’s Best Friend

By Jarvis Cromwell for The Reputation Garage

“Eternally basic is how people live.”

This holiday season, marketers aspiring to be trustmeisters should think about the quote above from the late, great Ted Bernstein of The New York Times.  His point was that any scrap of information, every communication, ultimately connects back to people and their lives.

At the end of the day, it’s all about us -- NOT the product, market, basketball score, database, or holiday gift.  Marketers call this an emotional connection, but somehow many have forgotten what that means.

Which brings us, strangely enough, to the next quote.

"Stay out of the doghouse this holiday season."

Always good advise, and in severe circumstances what is often required is, well, diamonds.  

Luxury goods aren’t easy to sell right now. The ways in which people are thinking about leading their lives in the current setting doesn’t make one bullish on diamond sales.

And it’s more than just consumer retrenchment.  As noted in my 11/30 dispatch, Faith Popcorn sees a movement of anti-over-consumerism taking hold among consumers – a “we can't afford it, so we might as well hate it” sentiment. Unfortunately, this is perfectly in sync with the low trust levels of our times.

Below is an approach that we think adeptly disarms the anti-over-consumerism backlash -- a funny viral campaign from the jewelry shop at J.C. Penny titled "Beware of the Doghouse." At 4 minutes it’s bit long, but totally worth the watch.  It follows the foibles of, excuse the language, a dual-bag and uses humor to make a trust point:  you live and die by your actions.  Other positives in our view:

-- The message deeply relates to the audience (or at least to a few of us guys here in the Garage)

-- Great leverage of Facebook

-- Viral power (it starts a fun conversation)

-- Feels authentic

Fellow trustmeister Paul Dunay said it initiated that “damn I wish I thought of that feeling when I saw it.”

The true test of something viral is whether the recipient will “buzz it forward” to more than one person.  If N > 1 it will go viral. If N = 1 or is <>

This campaign has N>1 written all over it. We hope it makes JC Penny some money this season.

Watch “Beware of the Doghouse” HERE.  Enjoy.

Copyright 2008 by The Reputation Garage

Monday, December 01, 2008

Should You Capitalize on the Visibility Premium? (Britton Manasco)

Are you personally seeking higher visibility in your field or profession?
If you answered yes, you’re not alone. More and more of us are aiming to be widely recognized.  But this growing trend presents issues for employees and companies to consider.
It used to be that the desire for high visibility was largely confined to stars in the worlds of movies, sports and politics. But in our web-enabled world, those tools have been democratized, and the high visibility trade is now widely practiced. Capitalizing on the advice of folks like Tom Peters, individuals in business and the professions now build “the brand called you.”   
In their book
High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand, Philip Kotler, Irving Rein, Michael Hamlin and Martin Stoller argue that high visibility marketing and communication has become a sophisticated industry that reaches deep into the economy. The book, which was originally written in 1997 and was re-released (and re-written) in 2006, provides a framework for understanding the drivers and enablers of visibility. The authors contend that “attaining visibility has become a highly sophisticated process” and “all kinds of people today are seeking ways to become brands.”
So why are more people seeking high visibility?
One reason is that higher visibility often translates into more
money.  Those who are better recognized command higher fees and salaries and other perks.
Another reason is
attention. Those who are well branded in the marketplace attract more prospects (or prospective employers).
A third is
trust.  One won’t be widely viewed as a provider of trustworthy guidance unless one has already been elevated to a certain level of public recognition and esteem.
Finally, there is
status. Tom Wolfe argues that economic expansion after World War II fostered the emergence of new “status spheres,” and encouraged status competition.
For all these reasons organizations are attracted to high visibility individuals. Corporations have paid enormous sums to attract recognized CEOs with impressive track records. Universities seek respected names as their leaders. Newly elected presidents want a certain amount of star power in their cabinets.

But there are downsides. As with Hollywood stars, high visibility can make a career, or break it.  It can lift an enterprise or hamstring it. Companies that have sought “rock star” CEOs have often ended up disappointed with the results. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, points to HP’s transitional struggle with Carla Fiorina and wonders how well Apple will perform over the longer term without Steve Jobs or Oracle without Larry Ellison or Cisco without John Chambers.
“We learned in our research that the most effective leaders never make themselves the center of attention,” wrote Collins in a
Wall Street Journal editorial in 2001. “They are understated yet determined, quiet yet forceful. Most lack the liability of charisma. Indeed, the very best ones overwhelmed us not with their ego, but with their humility. They’re ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for their institutions, not for themselves.”
So in this new world where more rank-and-file employees are seeking to increase their personal visibility, how do you balance what’s best for the individual as “visibility aspirant” with what’s best for the enterprise as thought leader and brand? This is an increasingly important question to in today’s highly contested, trust-starved and turbulent markets.  
Let me argue that as organizations seek to turn more employees into “thought leaders” in order to boost their reputation and build brand trust; they need to articulate a specific and strategically well thought out set of rules for the road. Also companies should not invest all of their visibility producing resources into just one or a few individuals. Things change. People move on. Risks may outweigh benefits when you invest all your visibility capital into one basket.
It’s better to cultivate multiple thought leaders within an organization and raise their visibility collectively. It’s also important to raise the visibility of the organization itself as a source of trustworthy and authoritative guidance.
For individuals, the visibility premium has powerful allure and can be lucrative. But will you take the necessary steps to earn this premium and build trust with your audiences? Or will your fans end up wishing upon a falling star?  

I'll discuss steps for ensuring trust as you build your visibility in my next dispatch.

Britton Manasco is a contributing "trustmeister" to the Reputation Garage and founder of Manasco Marketing Partners, a firm that specialized in thought leadership strategy and execution.  He also produces the blog, Illuminating the Future: How Thought Leaders Become Market Leaders.

Copyright 2008 by the Reputation Garage