Reputation management and branding

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The brand value of a company now appears on the balance sheet as a tangible asset. It is no longer a domain that belongs firmly in the marketing department alone. Sharon Williams explains why reputation management and branding is critical to business success.

In 1940 brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald had the idea to open a restaurant that served burgers, hot chips and drinks. The idea was not original; it wasn’t exciting or even groundbreaking. So why is it that 70 years on their idea (which is now known as McDonald’s) is the world’s largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants, serving more than 58 million customers daily around the world? Branding is the acute difference. Your brand story is the essence behind your company. It can take years of hard work to build and seconds to lose. Your brand is what differentiates you and without a clear brand identity, it is difficult to see what you stand for; you are no different to everyone else.

When I meet a client who wants to expand their target market, increase sales or increase their presence in the media, I treat their brand promise as the single most important element of their campaign. Too often people underestimate the power of their brand identity to make or break a company or campaign. Everything from appearance, experience, pricing, quality, reputation, presence and benefits make up a brand’s identity and this is ultimately what attracts and keeps your audiences engaged.

Your core brand values

From its early formation a brand, like a good novel, tells the story of the company it represents. Is the organisation caring and loving, is it tough or sexy? A company is only as strong or as weak as the public’s perception of that brand. I own a marketing/PR agency that’s been going for 16 years, getting our brand out there and establishing marked points of difference has been paramount (and fun) on that journey.

The brand value of a company now appears on the balance sheet as a tangible asset. It is no longer a domain that belongs firmly in the marketing department alone. It has powerful connotations – luxury, contemporary, health, family, quality, social status and most importantly shareholder value. It creates in the mind of customers and prospects an acute perception and it encourages an emotional attachment. Remember everything from your stationery, logo and advertising to your website, office look and social media presence (or lack of) will contribute to your brand. Strategy is everything. Know your key messages. Fine tune your core values. Stick to them (don’t stray from them). Work on getting it right every time.

Be yourself on purpose

Growing a brand is not quick or easy. You need to deliver a strategic message aimed at a strategic audience. When I think of a company’s brand, I like to think of it as a person – or even a car! Is it confident and serious or laid back and funny? Is it a Fiat Uno, family saloon or Rolls Royce? And how would my brand behave in this situation? This way, you never stray from your brand identity and confuse the public. Your brand’s relationship should be nourished, transparent and mutually beneficial. Social media is to be embraced. The new tools we have provide us with the opportunity for honest, open dialogue and help personify your brand. Use the social media platforms well and make sure your brand lives up to its name. Importantly, don’t make the mistake of setting unrealistic expectations. As I always say, putting your brand out there means to just be yourself, but on purpose.

Integrity is easily compromised

It is one thing to make a promise through a brand, it is quite another to be seen to ‘be in integrity’ and keeping that promise. Promising something you can’t deliver diminishes your brand’s integrity. When you don’t do what you promise, integrity is compromised. Know your brand’s limits, know exactly what it can do and keep a distance from false claims. Monitor the comments about your brand in the marketplace and be ready to react. Crisis and issues management programs are key. When assault allegations were made against then David Jones CEO Mark McInnes, even though he resigned, David Jones quickly lost $81million from its $2.2billion market value.

A case study

A case study that springs to mind is popular fruit drink Ribena’s crisis where a school experiment discovered that contrary to its claim of having four times the level of vitamin C found in oranges, it actually had almost none. No credibility = no brand.

Benjamin Franklin’s key quote: “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation and only one bad one to lose it,” encourages us not to take our brand for granted. If you lie to loyal friends, you will inevitably lose credibility and the stigma will attach itself to your brand for a long time.

Brand success

On the flip side, a brand that does what it says it will, that has integrity, will be highly regarded. Starbucks for instance, adheres to an impressive CSR commitment. This spans ethical sourcing and employment, environmentally sustainable practices such as using 100 percent recyclable cups and developing methods to minimise its impact on climate change. The Starbucks brand is differentiated by values that are continually assessed and transparent to the public via social media. Consumers are loyal to the brand and are likely to choose to go back because these values reflect their expectations and wants.

In the case of McDonald’s, its fast delivered, appealing, low priced food translates well with consumers. The brand evolved nimbly as health standards became more prominent in society but its key brand identity has stayed solid: fast, low-priced food served in a reliable guaranteed way. As a result, rather than falling into obscurity with many other hamburger restaurants, the McDonald’s golden arches are still one of the most recognisable brands in the world.

Like brand identity, goodwill is also enormously important. Strong consumer goodwill means that if times get tough people are encouraged to stick with the brand through the bad times.

Happily ever after

Creating a great brand is just the beginning. Your brand should be treated like a long-term relationship. It requires trust, honesty, communication and continual work to get it through the honeymoon period and create long lasting partnerships. I find that if a brand is true to itself, transparent and open to communicate, it flourishes. Don’t abuse the trust or ignore its development, lest the relationship turn sour.

  • Sharon,

    Great post. We run a small interactive agency and build out a specific Rep Managers site for the European market. I love your perspective on the Brand strategy. Lot’s of reputation management companies do not focus on this side of ORM at all.