A stereotype is a collection of associations that links a target group to a set of descriptive characteristics. The concept of stereotype applied to individuals also applies to nonhuman entities such as corporations. Consumers are open to the idea that marketplace entities can possess human-like traits, and many consumers react positively to personified products. This entry discusses the features of stereotypes and their relationship to corporate reputation.
Research has found that many consumers perceive nonprofits as generally warm, while corporations are seen as competent. Despite the fact that such beliefs are largely based on stereotypes, they can profoundly affect consumer choices and expectation. In fact, corporations often purposively create certain corporate identities or images that reflect personalities or certain types of stereotypes.
Nonetheless, it is important to note that the typical stereotypes mainly refer to how members of one social group view outsiders, and such views may change after intimate contact with the outsiders. The same can be true for corporations. Even if a corporation carefully creates a false stereotype, when the image is inaccurate, it cannot withstand the test of time and intimate contact.
It is also important to note that the effect of stereotypes can persist and affect actual consumer beliefs, emotions, and marketplace behaviors. As such, it is necessary for corporations to assess and understand public perception. When important stakeholders hold negative stereotypes of a corporation, it is crucial to develop communication campaigns to change such perceptions. Even if stakeholders hold positive stereotypes, when such views considerably deviate from reality, these stereotypes may still be problematic since stakeholders may have unrealistic expectations that are difficult for organizations to meet.
Stereotypes contain three basic features. The first feature is that although sometimes stereotypes contain kernels of truth, generally they are formed based on insufficient information. The process of stereotyping generalizes a handful of features to a whole group and denies individual differences. Therefore, a substantial number of stereotypes are inaccurate. Second, although stereotypes are not necessarily negative, people who hold stereotypes toward a group are more likely to let culture do their thinking rather than carefully evaluating objective experience. Actually, this is the benefit of keeping stereotypes, because they can save people from efforts to think and would not challenge the thinking that people are used to or feel comfortable with. This feature makes people’s stereotypes of a certain group more rigid and resistant to change. Third, many stereotypes have a cultural basis and are shared within social groups. To sum up, stereotypes are inaccurate, resistant to change, and shared within social groups.
Corporate Reputation and Stereotypes
Both stereotypes and corporate reputation can be based on indirect experiences. Both can be inaccurate and misleading. Given the resemblance between corporation reputation and stereotype, studies have connected corporate reputation to stereotypes and many have asked this question: “Is corporate reputation a form of stereotype?” Some scholars have argued that public attitude and opinion toward business is largely influenced by stereotypes, and this may be especially true for large companies such as Fortune 500 companies, with which most people do not have any personal interactions. As such, for millions of members of the public, corporate reputation and stereotypes do overlap to a certain degree.
Nonetheless, it is important to emphasize that the concepts of stereotypes and corporate reputation have important differences. First, corporations come with different sizes, structures, cultures, goals, and communication styles. Some corporations may have distinct corporate personalities and are capable of properly communicating such personalities to their target publics. In other words, some corporations’ reputations are quite accurate reflections of these corporations. For these corporations, their publics’ perceptions are not necessarily stereotypes. Second, even for the same corporation, corporate reputation may differ considerably from public to public, as they come to associate with the corporation in different ways and have different familiarity levels. For example, longtime shareholders may have more knowledge about a corporation than a new consumer. As such, it is unrealistic to expect all publics to hold similar stereotypes about a corporation. Third and most important, corporate reputation is a form of corporate asset and should be managed with strategic research, planning, and communication. In contrast, corporate stereotypes are created and distributed outside a corporation, and the effects of these sometimes can be harmful for corporations.
In conclusion, it is not uncommon for corporate managers and communication practitioners to expect that their publics may hold inaccurate, sometimes stereotypical views about corporations. Moreover, communication managers should carefully research the target publics’ perceptions about a corporation and develop communication strategies to eliminate inaccurate stereotypes. It is important to understand that even when a corporation’s public holds a positive stereotype about a corporation, when this view is inaccurate, it may still create unrealistic expectations and harm the organization’s reputation in the long run.
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