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The most inspiring company in the U.S.? It's Apple

Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

A recent survey has found that Apple is regarded as the most inspiring company in the United States.

We’ve known for a while that consumers are infatuated with Apple and its products. That was confirmed Monday when the company announced that it sold more than 5 million units of its new iPhone 5 since the product launched three days earlier. And on Tuesday a Georgia-based brand consulting firm dubbed the technology giant America’s most inspiring company.

Performance Inspired, Inc., an Atlanta consulting and training firm that helps organizations elevate performance through the science of inspiration, surveyed 2,175 consumers to identify America’s 25 most inspiring companies.

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Conducted online, the survey asked respondents which five companies they find most inspirational, and why. It also asked them to describe their most recent encounter with each company.

The goal of the survey was to find a correlation between successful companies and those that inspire their consumers. “According to our latest research, consumers are not only feeling inspired by certain businesses, but are acting inspired by spending more with these companies while evangelizing to others about their inspiring experience,” said Terry Barber, chief inspiration officer for Performance Inspired. “We now see there is a validated set of drivers to inspiration and when these drivers are activated, it elevates employee engagement that shows up in the customer experience.”

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For the second consecutive year, Apple is at the top of the heap. “Apple is the most inspiring again this year because it has become a part of the consumer’s personal identity,” Barber said. “Consumers wrote comments such as: ‘Apple makes me feel more creative,’ and ‘Apple makes me feel entrepreneurial.’ People were also inspired by the company’s ability to continue to innovate even without Steve Jobs at the helm.”

Barber said Apple fans also said they felt like they were a part of a special community. “Some wrote in about how ‘they’ felt victorious after the settlement between Apple and Samsung,” he added.

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Other companies on the list, like Target (No. 3) and Johnson & Johnson (No. 22), earned their rankings through global or community improvement plans. For a decade, Target has donated 5 percent of its pretax profits to the cities where it operates. In 2005, Target formed a partnership with the Salvation Army, creating an online donation system to help needy families.

Some big companies, often seen as profit-hungry behemoths, ranked well in the survey, too. Wal-Mart, for instance, earned the No. 2 spot because respondents believe company keeps its promises and is authentic. In the branding firm’s analysis, Performance Inspired speculates that customers especially like Wal-Mart’s competitive prices and its commitment to giving back to the community. “For many respondents, Wal-Mart was also seen as a much welcome source of employment for seniors,” Barber added. “There was also very much of a polarization on the perception of how Wal-Mart treats its employees. The vast majority of negative comments regarding the company were on this issue. Yet, some of the more affirming comments came from people who identified themselves as either present or past employees of Wal-Mart.”

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Respondents also liked companies that stick to their values. Despite it being at the center of controversy this year, Chick-fil-A, a fast-food chain with more than 1,600 locations, earned the No. 7 spot.

“Over the last three years since we’ve been doing this research, Chick-fil-A has always shown up as being very inspiring, so it just makes sense that there is a lot of equity and trust built up here and no doubt, they are leveraging some of that good equity during these times,” Barber said.

The company, founded by devout Christian S. Truett Cathy, keeps stores closed on Sundays so employees can spend time with their families and go to church.

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Small companies with good stories to tell also did well in the rankings. Blake Mycoskie, the founder of Toms Shoes (for “Tomorrow’s Shoes”), which launched in Venice, Calif., in 2006, donates a pair of shoes to needy people in places like Argentina and Haiti for every pair that it sells. Toms ranks No. 18 on the list.

Goodwill (No. 23) — a newcomer to the list — is another “outlier among so many high-power business brands,” Barber said. “Consumers are really appreciative of the Goodwill retail stores and the perceived feel-good value they are bringing to local communities.”

Another newcomer: Whole Foods. “I believe one of the greatest stories lies behind Whole Foods,” Barber said. “The company’s chief executive, John Mackey, appears to be on a passionate campaign around what he calls ‘Conscious Capitalism,’ an emphasis on grounding business around a profound purpose.”

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Though the survey didn’t ask directly about companies’ relationships with employees, those with a reputation for treating employees well got high rankings. For example, Google which is known for having one of the best work environments in the country, providing free meals and entertainment and encouraging employees to spend 10 percent of their time on creative projects unrelated to their daily jobs, earned the No. 4 spot this year.

What do consumers do when they are inspired by a company? The survey found that 86 percent of respondents say they would recommend the company to friends and family. Eighty-two percent would be loyal to that company, and another 92 percent would share their experience with others. Almost three-quarters (71 percent) reported they would spend more on a company that inspires them.

“This survey highlights the fact that a company needs to spend some time uncovering and mining its own inspirational DNA and it needs to show up, not just in an ad, but in the interaction between associate and customer,” Barber concluded.

Top 10 Most Inspiring Companies:

1. Apple

2. Wal-Mart

3. Target

4. Google

5. Microsoft

6. Amazon

7. Chick-fil-A

8. Starbucks

9. McDonald’s