Brand Can’t Succeed Without a Reputation That Matches

April 30, 2013

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Marjorie Benzkofer
by Marjorie Benzkofer A TRUE Commentary

Reputation has existed as long as there have been human interactions. It is fundamental to every organization, its products and services, and its leaders.

A reputation can exist even before a conversation begins. And reputation lasts long after any exchange or transaction is complete.

Customers don’t buy … Legislators don’t vote … Employees don’t come to work … simply because of what you promise in your brand. They act because of what they believe your brand stands for, based on how a company acts and speaks and their experiences with the brand. In other words, your reputation.

But too often today companies are creating a collision between their brand and reputation. When they do, it destroys their credibility and creates a true authenticity gap in the minds of their stakeholders.

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A recent FleishmanHillard-Lepere Analytics study measured what it called the Authenticity Gap between what stakeholders expected from a company or industry and what they were actually experiencing. Probing the gap between brand and reputation, the survey of expert consumers—those who follow industries closely and are aware of the differences among competitors—showed that their expectations go well beyond their own individual interaction with a company.

While 45 percent of the entire score for a company or industry involved pure customer concerns such as product value, customer care and innovation, one quarter of the total score reflected how expert customers thought they performed when it came to employee care, community impact and care of the environment. Another 30 percent focused on management behaviors: Did the company do the right thing? Did it provide consistent performance? And did it have credible communications?

So we can see that consumers view a company brand as being about much more than just marketing and packaging; it’s part of everything a company does and says. Reputation and brand are linked and both are tied to business operations.

So this is a strategic business issue. Time and again we see companies that want to use marketing or brand messaging to paper over a reputation when the real issue is the need for credible, meaningful stakeholder engagement. To accomplish that sometimes requires not just new, better communications but changes in how the company does business.

In today’s era, the alignment between brand and reputation drives success and new opportunity. Achieving it demands the coordination of many disciplines—not only marketing and communications, but also government and regulatory relations, financial communications, employee engagement, sales, and customer service.

Unfortunately, for many organizations, these responsibilities remain divided in silos, with carefully constructed walls created more to protect turf than strengthen engagement. The result is too often ineffective internal communication, poorly invested resources, out-of-focus strategy, and failure to create and prosper from authentic engagement.

In today’s world, no organization can afford to have brand and reputation remain divided. No longer can we think of them as separate entities to be managed and measured by separate functions. They need to be brought together, under one umbrella.

The conclusion: Everything you do or say may affect all your stakeholders even if they are not intimately involved. For that reason, companies need to make sure their entire organization and not just the front office is onboard with their brand values.

Ultimately, organizations must take a holistic approach to brand and reputation and make them almost interchangeable. They must align the metrics they use to determine how authentic they are with the measurement of business outcomes. That way there is no confusion in managers’ minds: Getting to the performance we want financially requires us to talk the talk and walk the walk.

Key Points

  • A collision between brand and reputation destroys credibility and creates an authenticity gap.
  • Management behaviors and impact on society are important considerations for consumers, accounting for more than half of the score they gave companies and industries.
  • Don’t use brand marketing to paper over a reputation problem. You need to talk to stakeholders.