How do companies get on to the list to be studied? It is simple: they are the most visible ones, those that appear in the schedule of top advertisers as compiled by media research firm Nielsen, which reflects that they are pre-eminent in public life because of their advertising spend.
This is not a perfect way to choose the companies behind major brands, but it is pragmatic: companies that are conscious of their reputations also generally spend a lot of resources building them, and the easiest and most transparent way to measure this is through advertising spend.
Obviously, there are other means to build visibility in the market. One is public relations, for example, but as any marketing professional can tell you, a brand’s PR budget is normally a small fraction of ad spend. Increasingly, companies are spending their external communications budget on social media. This will become a bigger and bigger component in future, but it is still small compared to the almighty advertising rand.
Into the field
Once selected as a top company, the fun begins. An army of researchers is dispatched into the field, each one armed with a questionnaire and the latest technology in the form of a computer-assisted personal interview system.
Where they are sent is no accident. Plus94 did extensive work to identify a number of geographic areas to give a useful span of demographics and locations and then homed in on specific areas, neighbourhoods and streets to identify the individuals that were surveyed. Rather than respondents volunteering their points of view, this method is much more representative because individuals who want to be heard are often either fans or have an axe to grind, which skews the results.
A total of 2 090 people were interviewed in Johannesburg (677), West Rand (108), East Rand (125), Pretoria (204), Cape Town (518) and Durban (458). Because one can only ask people about so many companies, there was also a segmentation by industry sector to ensure a statistically valid sample: 458 responded about the top 30 Companies, 416 about financial service providers, 403 about general retail, 403 about other retail and 410 about telecoms and vehicle manufacturers.
The survey is broadly qualitative, comprising largely open-ended questions with trained interviewers to understand the answers given in the context of the interviewee. This ensures valid data for which interviewers sometimes needed to do extra probing to unlock insights.
Plus94 has a long pedigree in in-depth research and has a team of 50 full-time researchers with postgraduate qualifications in fields such as demography, statistics, psychology, marketing and sociology. The analyst team is supported by more than 150 trained full-time interviewers on call across Southern Africa.
The questionnaire used standard dimensions and attributes to allow consistent tracking over time. Although the core of the research system remains unchanged and consistent, some new elements were added this year. In particular, social media questions were added to address the rapid rise in the importance of this communications medium.
Plus94’s brief was to examine a large enough sample size to allow results to be generalised across South Africa.
Each interview took about 50 minutes and subjects each rated six companies in depth per questionnaire. Prior to rating any business, respondents had to indicate the degree to which they were familiar with it. This was intended to screen out ratings by respondents who were uninformed about a particular company.
What they were asked
The survey covered four core areas:
Profile: demographics, position, main line of business;
General reputation: rating good and bad reputation companies, inclination to support or boycott these companies and the familiarity with the companies;
Reputation dimensions: questions broken down to see about products and services, vision and leadership, workplace environment, black economic empowerment, financial performance, communications, governance and corporate social responsibility; and
Interaction with the companies: intention to purchase, advertising and visibility, whether it is a concerned corporate citizen and social network presence or interaction.
The profile of respondents closely matched South Africa’s demographics: an even split between male and female and 68% were black, 27% white, 3% coloured and 2% Indian.
The majority of respondents were “mature adults”. Those who were 25 to 49 years old comprised 48% of the sample, 23% were between 15 and 24 and 28% were older than 50. This in line with South Africa’s age demographics but modified to weight “economically active” people.
Rich, poor and in between
In terms of income bracket, South Africa’s population that is economically active was used as the baseline: 27% of the sample was living standard measure 5 to 6, 36% was LSM 7 to 8 and 37% was 9 to 10. Fifty percent worked full time and 10% of them were self-employed. Thirteen percent of the sample worked part time, 11% were studying and 14% were unemployed. Housewives and retired people made up 4% and 8%, respectively.
In terms of income and education, the sample is squarely representative of the South African middle and working class – those earning more than R7 900 comprised 15%. Only 1 out of 12 interviewees refused to say what they earned, which in South Africa’s environment displayed a pleasing level of trust in the interviewers.
This is in line with the typical wage bands in South Africa. One aspect that may be desirable in future studies is to increase the sample size to allow differentiating of the company perceptions by economic class – certain products and services are unaffordable to many, or their possibility of working for that company is small, and so their opinions would matter in different ways.