When a firm is perceived not only as successful but also as giving something back to the nation, one might expect it to have a captive commercial audience. However, corporate reputation is not so simple to maintain, especially when one factors in the various stakeholders who may or may not take the bait.
This vital aspect to obtaining national credibility needs to be viewed through the multiple perspective of consumers, investors, employees and business community members before deciding whether reputation can be built purely on the perception that a firm is making a valuable contribution to its country of operation.
Whilst firms cannot hope to prosper on reputation alone, building up one is nevertheless a long and very necessary process that is central to a firm’s industry and social positioning and its management and marketing strategies. Successful reputation establishment and management depends upon two main factors – the actual “personality” of the organisation in question and how it is viewed by others. The former can be shaped by concrete business operations and actions and then managed through corporate communications, which may include showcasing the firm’s values or contribution to society. Corporate patriotism, whereby firms position themselves as “giving back” to the country in which they operate, is another such mechanism for trying to seduce public opinion.
A credit to the nation?
Corporate patriotism is not a phenomenon exclusively reserved for firms in their country of foundation. Think Google and how synonymous it has become with Dublin due to the location and contribution of its European HQ, despite its very transatlantic roots. What corporate patriotism relies upon is not the actual origin of the firm but its ability to tap into its stakeholders and create a perception of contributing to the nation, through a combination of words and deeds. Of course, the downside of building reputation in this manner is when things start to go wrong and the tide of public opinion changes. When firms such as L’Oréal and France Télécom suffered bad publicity via a series of reports of employee dissatisfaction and abuse their national perception took a serious beating when, in times of good publicity, the very French nature of these two organisations worked very much in their favour.
Looking through multiple lenses
The swings and roundabouts of building reputation based on corporate patriotism are plain to see. However, assessing the impact of this phenomenon depends very much on who you ask. By the very nature of their relationship with a firm, a consumer, investor, employee and business community member are not looking for the same things. They may all, to varying extents, be influenced by the emotional appeal of the firm, its vision and leadership, the working environment, the products and services on offer, the level of corporate social responsibility displayed, and financial performance. However, their expectations and needs of the firm can never be assumed to be the same. Corporate reputation relies upon the creation of a firm personality but also meeting stakeholder expectations. The impact of corporate patriotism therefore hinges upon whether a firm is perceived to be a prospective provider of quality products and services, a good employer, a rewarding investment opportunity or a prospective corporate citizen of their community. To what extent the consumer, investor, employee and business community member needs to identify themselves with the firm as “one of their own” is by no means uniform.
Putting reputation to the test
In order to assess the respective impact of corporate patriotism on each stakeholder group, a recent two-step study involving graduate student and professional populations in Europe and Australia was conducted to establish the importance for stakeholders of considering a firm as making a positive local or national contribution. What emerged very clearly throughout was a split in trend between, on the one side, the consumer and investor perspective on corporate patriotism and, on the other, the employee and business community point of view.
The former pairing place lower emphasis on matters of reputation as their primary interest remains in the end product or service. The latter pairing attach greater importance to their perception of firms, to what extent they see themselves in the firm and vice versa and therefore are more greatly influenced by the perceived contribution of firms in terms of corporate patriotism, domestic ownership, local production and investing profits in the country of operation.
Such a distinct split should be heeded by marketing managers in particular, who should appreciate the necessity of customising their message according to stakeholder group. Recruitment heads should also bear such results in mind when seeking to attract employees, while senior managers looking to build up partnerships within the business community should also be aware of the potential value of national reputation. Corporate patriotism undeniably has a role to play, but firms must be careful to gauge its relative importance from one target audience to another.
This article draws inspiration from the paper Corporate patriotism as a source of corporate reputation: a comparative multi-stakeholder approach, written by Petya Puncheva-Michelotti, Rod McColl, Andrea Vocino and Marco Michelotti and published in The Journal of Strategic Marketing volume 22, number 6 (2014).
Petya Puncheva-Michelotti is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Rennes School of Business, France. Her research interests include Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Rights, Stakeholder Relationship Management, International Marketing Management, Cross-national Corporate Reputation Measurement and Management, and NGO-business Relationships and Corporate Reputation.
Rod McColl is a Professor of marketing at Rennes School of Business. His research interests include the effect of verbalized emotions on loyalty in written complaints, the effects of service guarantee and recovery type on service evaluations after a service recovery, Marketing services - service quality, customer satisfaction and loyalty and Digital media and advertising.
Marco Michelotti is an Associate Professor at Rennes School of Business. His research interests include International Business, Strategic HRM, Workplace and Industrial/Employee Relations, Strategic Management, NGOs and Globalisation, Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Rights…
Andrea Vocino is an Associate Professor in Marketing at Deakin Business School, Melbourne, Australia. His research interests include marketing and customer behavior.
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