When it comes to buying behavior, a company's brand can overshadow its product, according to a survey released Tuesday.
"The halo of the corporate brand is not only more important than ever before, it's critical," said Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, vice president of U.S. strategy consulting at the Reputation Institute. "[It's] the key to success in the global marketplace."
Reputation Institute, a research and advisory firm, examined the emotional bond consumers hold with companies in its annual survey. Using seven criteria — innovation, leadership, governance, citizenship, workplace, performance, and products and services — the firm found that the top-performing companies tended to score well on corporate social responsibility.
The firm surveyed roughly 22,000 U.S. consumers online during the first quarter, asking them a list of 17 questions about the companies they were most familiar with. The companies were scored out of 100. Here are the Reputation's Institute's top five companies that have brushed off controversy and won consumers' support so far this year.
— Posted by CNBC's Anita Balakrishnan
29 March 2016
Sony rounded out this year's top 5, bubbling up from number 28 last year. After a 2014 data breach that stymied the theater release of "The Interview" and exposed corporate emails and employee information, Sony rebounded thanks to increased transparency.
"Sony didn't hide from the data breach," Hahn-Griffiths said. "It recognized the threat to national security, so it took ['The Interview'] out of the movie theaters and put in on demand release — and effectively managed the crisis."
When shoppers buy Rice Krispies cereal, they know it's a Kellogg brand, the study found.
"With Kellogg, shoppers understand the house of brands and the connection to the company," Hahn-Griffiths said. He also pointed to Kellogg's family-friendly image: "It engenders good citizenship."
Though Apple's recently made headlines for its tussle with the FBI, its "corporate narrative" had fallen behind one competitor in past years.
Mobile phone maker Samsung again managed to score higher than Apple, which earned 73.5 points, thanks in part to better marks for openness and communication, Hahn-Griffiths said.
Hallmark does "reasonably well" financially and on its products, but it really excels in conveying the depth of human relationships, Hahn-Griffiths said.
"Hallmark benefits from a legacy of a highly emotional brand," he said. "It has transformed from a greeting card company to a brand that inspires human connections."
Chipotle's score dropped 18.5 points, to 55.7, following the chain's food-borne illness outbreak, while sandwich shop Subway dealt with lingering fallout from the arrest of former spokesperson Jared Fogle. Subway's score dropped 8.4 points, to 69. Chipotle did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.
To be sure, the results of the study are limited: Subway called the study "flawed and disappointing," pointing to their immediate dismissal of Fogle and their movement toward more natural ingredients that have kept a core base of loyal customers.
But Hahn-Griffiths said other companies can learn from the leaderboard.
"Companies can't hide in the digital economy," Hahn-Griffiths said. "You can't hide behind no comment. There's a gotcha moment waiting to happen."