Familiarity refers to the overall knowledge that someone has about a specific organization. Over the years, scholars studying organizational reputation have focused significant attention on the relationship between familiarity and organizational reputation, making it a highly significant area of research. This entry starts by explaining the concept of familiarity and highlighting the differences between familiarity and similar concepts often used in reputation research. It then continues with a historical overview of the literature that has investigated the relationship between familiarity and reputation.
Familiarity with an organization can be acquired through direct experience of an organization (e.g., its products and services) or indirectly through media exposure and/or hearsay. In this sense, familiarity is a necessary condition for reputation to exist: If someone does not know anything about an organization, he or she will not be able to express any reputation judgment about it. This is why many scholars have claimed that organizations should invest in familiarity-building activity from the beginning of their existence to be able to form a reputation.
Familiarity is similar to terms such as awareness and knowledge. However, it has also often been used as a synonym for other terms—such as prominence and (media) visibility—that, although related, have different and more specific meanings. In this sense, prominence (sometimes called top-of-mind awareness) refers to the extent to which an organization naturally comes to mind and receives recognition from a person or a public, whereas (media) visibility usually refers to the extent to which the media cover a specific organization. However, depending on the specific context of use, it might make sense to use familiarity as a generalized term to indicate organizations that are prominent and/or visible. In this sense, various scholars have suggested that “being known” (i.e., being familiar, prominent, and/or visible) would be a definitional property of reputation, together with being positively evaluated (i.e., esteem) and being associated with specific attributes.
Yet historically, most existing research examining the relationship between familiarity and reputation has treated the two concepts as separate, focusing on understanding whether a positive correlation exists between the two. The origins of this interest can be traced back to the research in psychology and later in marketing looking at the “mere exposure effect,” which suggests that the more we are exposed to an object, the more we are going to like it. In this sense, research in fields as diverse as marketing, public relations, recruiting, strategy, and organization theory has found a positive relationship between people’s familiarity with an organization and the way in which they evaluate the focal organization. The explanation behind the positive relationship between the two variables might relate to the fact that people interpret their familiarity with an organization as a signal of relevance and quality and therefore like it more. However, scholars have challenged the idea that familiarity positively relates to reputation, arguing that things might be more complex. For instance, some scholars have found that liking the organization leads to familiarity, not the other way around. Other scholars have found that familiarity relates to ambivalence—that is, the coexistence of positive and negative opinions and beliefs: As information about a familiar organization is more easily available, there are more chances of knowing both good and bad things about such organizations. Despite these findings, it is undeniable that most existing research suggests a positive relationship between familiarity and reputation.
Brooks, M. E., Highhouse, S., Russell, S. S., & Mohr, D. C. (2003). Familiarity, ambivalence, and firm reputation: Is corporate fame a double-edged sword? Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(5), 904–914.
Mariconda, S., & Lurati, F. (2013). Haven’t we met before? An investigation into the influence of familiarity on the cognitive process underlying reputation formation. In J. Balmer, L. Illia, & A. Gonzalez del Valle (Eds.), Contemporary perspectives on corporate marketing: Contemplating corporate branding, marketing and communications in the 21st century (pp. 130–146). Abingdon, England: Routledge.
Mariconda, S., & Lurati, F. (2014). Being known: A literature review on media visibility, public prominence and familiarity with implications for reputation research and management. Corporate Reputation Review, 17(3), 219–236.
Mariconda, S., & Lurati, F. (2015). Does familiarity breed stability? The role of familiarity in moderating the effects of new information on reputation judgments. Journal of Business Research, 68, 957–964.
Yang, S. (2007). An integrated model for organization-public relational outcomes, organizational reputation, and their antecedents. Journal of Public Relations Research, 19(2), 91–121.