As companies become more connected and businesses more international, creating a first-class reputation across borders is critical. For some companies, this can be the difference between success and failure.
So what is the secret to earning esteem that spans the world? And which companies are best at doing it? Reputation Institute, a global private consulting firm based in New York, uncovered 28 companies that have established international merit. Earlier this year it conducted a survey to assess the strength of the world's 600 largest companies (by revenue) in their home countries. Then consumers in 24 countries, from Brazil and the U.S. to Spain and South Korea, judged the 54 highest-rated companies, giving them more than 181,000 reputation ratings--from 0 to 100--on their products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, financial performance and leadership.
Companies at the top of the list all had one thing in common: innovation. Google ( GOOG - news - people ) and Sony ( SNE - news - people ) ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively (with scores of 78.62 and 78.47), pulling in consumer admiration for new technologies that touch consumers' lives. The two companies have a history of producing forward-thinking products that have emotional and rational appeal. Google, along with pulling in $6.7 billion in advertising revenue for the first quarter of 2010 (up 23% from the same time period last year), offers free services, such as e-mail and maps, for anyone to use. Sony, the world's second-largest consumer electronics maker behind Samsung, has a 54-year history of releasing leading music players and television sets. The two companies recently announced a partnership to launch Internet-connected TVs.
Apple ( AAPL - news - people ), IKEA and Intel ( INTC - news - people ), placing sixth, eighth and 10th on the list (with scores of 76.29, 75.60, and 75.39), also won over consumers by making snappy products. Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., sold 1 million iPad tablet computers in the first 28 days at retail. IKEA, the Swedish furniture retailer operating in 44 countries, has revolutionized home furnishings, making fashionable, affordable furniture available to families across the world. Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel makes semiconductors to help power cars, computers and even televisions. "Innovation is a powerful tool for reaching consumers," says Kasper Nielsen, managing partner of Reputation Institute.
The eighth, ninth, and 25th most reputable companies, BMW, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) and Ferrero, established their reputations by forming prestige around their brands. Italian chocolate and confection maker Ferrero individually wraps its Ferrero Rocher chocolates in gold wrapping, which gives them an upscale look. BMW and Daimler, both German-owned, manufacture luxury cars and cater to consumers who are looking for top-notch products and services. They tap into car-buyers' emotions. BMW launched an ad campaign in February, re-branding itself as a company that makes people happy. "What you make people feel is just as important as what you make, we make joy," one of the company's ads says.
Commitment to citizenship is especially important these days. Microsoft ( MSFT - news - people ) founder Bill Gates established a philanthropic arm, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in 1994 as a way to improve international health and education. The Redmond, Wash., software giant--once viewed as a monopolistic, monolithic company--is now seen as a charitable, approachable company and ranked No. 11 on the list. French cosmetic maker L'Oreal, No. 16, is also reaping the rewards of its benefit work. The company started in 1998 the L'Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science, a scholarship fund granting $100,000 to female researchers.
Companies with large international operations can thrive. Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ - news - people ), maker of medical devices, consumer products and pharmaceuticals, oversees sales in more than 175 countries. The New Brunswick, N.J., company is the world's 12th most reputable company. Food maker Nestle ( NSRGY.PK - news - people )'s expansion into South America, where it was listed regionally as the most reputable company, is paying off. The company, based in Vevey, Switzerland, ranked 20th overall.
Another important factor in building global reputation is the appearance of transparency, a category won by Google. When the Mountain View, Calif., company pulled out of China to avoid showing censored search results to users there in late March, Google sent a message to the rest of the world that its values would be placed ahead of its profits. The decision resonated strongly in Central and Northern Europe, Central and South America and in North America, where consumers rated the company within the top five most-reputable businesses.
When privacy issues arise around its business, Google usually responds quickly: Recently the search giant said it would keep its Street View cars from picking up wireless networking data after Google revealed that these vehicles had collected content of users' Internet communications on open Wi-Fi networks.
Most important is the realization that global consumers matter, says Nielsen. "Having a global reputation is really difficult, but future growth will come from international markets," Nielsen says. "Companies need to know how to build and trust outside of their own homes."
Global Reputation Pulse 2010 - The Most Reputable Companies in the World Pulse Scores and Rank
Company Home Country Rank Reputation Pulse
Google U.S. 1 78.62
Sony Japan 2 78.47
The Walt Disney Company U.S. 3 77.97
BMW Germany 4 77.77
Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) Germany 5 76.83
Apple U.S. 6 76.29
Nokia Finland 7 76.00
IKEA Sweden 8 75.60
Volkswagen Germany 9 75.55
Intel U.S. 10 75.39
Microsoft U.S. 11 74.47
Johnson & Johnson U.S. 12 74.12
Panasonic Japan 13 73.67
Singapore Airlines Singapore 14 73.54
Philips Electronics the Netherlands 15 73.31
L'Oreal France 16 73.17
IBM U.S. 17 73.03
Hewlett-Packard U.S. 18 72.67
Barilla Italy 19 72.45
Nestle Switzerland 20 72.37
Ferrero Italy 21 72.36
Samsung Electronics South Korea 22 71.62
FedEx U.S. 23 70.84
Honda Motor Japan 24 70.82
The Coca-Cola Company U.S. 25 70.40
Carlsberg Denmark 26 70.31
Procter & Gamble U.S. 27 70.21
UPS U.S. 28 70.07
Industry: Technology, Information and Media
Headquarters: Mountain View, Calif.
Reasons behind the ranking: Google boosted its rating this year, becoming the world's most reputable company. The Web giant gained luster through its candor, its free products and services and by sticking to its values. Google's decision to pull out of mainland China in late March weakened its reputation across Asia, but its action suggested to other nations that the company is committed to transparency.
Reasons behind the ranking: As a global entertainment company with media networks, theme parks and consumer products, Disney touches people of all ages. The company has crafted a story about its company and how it engages families and society.
Reasons behind the ranking: With electronics that touch consumers on a daily basis, Sony has earned the respect of shoppers around the world. The maker of televisions, music players and entertainment scored high for its products and services, governance, how it operates in society and how it treats its employees. It helps them build trust.
Reasons behind the ranking: Consumers may have pulled back on new car purchases over the last several years of economic hardship, but they still view some carmakers as companies that pitch reputable products. BMW is one. The German auto company is regarded as having the best products and services of all companies across the globe.
Reasons behind the ranking: Daimler has built prestige around its brand and is being rewarded for it. The German automaker has a strong emotional connection with consumers across the globe, particularly in Central Europe and Asia.
Reasons behind the ranking: After launching its new tablet, the iPad, this year, Apple won over consumers with its innovation in products and services. Apple founder and Chief Executive Steve Jobs has also built a strong brand based on his leadership. Consumers look to Apple as a company with a vision for the future.
Reasons behind the ranking: For many countries, Ikea has opened access to affordable designer furniture. The Swedish company makes a connection with families in the most critical environments for them: their homes. It has revolutionized the market for home furnishings and scores high in leadership.
Reasons behind the ranking: Nokia is a global leader in the mobile industry and has driven its reputation with innovative handsets and mobile applications. The Finland company also scores high in philanthropy with its efforts to provide access to communication in less-developed countries.
Headquarters: Wolfsburg, Germany
Headquarters: Santa Clara, Calif.
Reasons behind the ranking: Intel's chips are not actually seen by the people who use them, but that hasn't stopped consumers from seeing Intel's offerings as quality products. The company is perceived as an innovator that will make products to improve the future.
Reasons behind the ranking: Maker of computing software and entertainment hardware, Microsoft has shaken its cut-throat, monopolistic image. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reflects Microsoft's softer, philanthropic side. The company's leadership remains strong even in the absence of founder Bill Gates
Reasons behind the ranking: Japan's biggest electronics manufacturer has lured consumer trust and admiration through its 90-year-history and product innovations.
Reasons behind the ranking: Maker of medical devices, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods, Johnson & Johnson gains trust with a 124-year-history. With its baby care products and drugstore brands, such as Band-Aid and Neutrogena, shoppers see J&J as a reliable household name. The New Brunswick-based company sends its products to more than 175 countries and has ranked the most reputable company in the U.S. and Canada.
Reasons behind the ranking: With strong rankings in customer service and innovation, Singapore Airlines has earned its reputation. Consumers in Northern Europe, as well as Asia, ranked it among the top five most reputable companies.
Reasons behind the ranking: Operating in 60 countries, Philips has made global connections with its mainstream products, such as its DVD and Blu-ray players.