THE CONVERGENCE OF BRAND AND REPUTATION
If there is one overpowering message to take from the brave, new world of communication, it is that our constituents will begin to assess our firm based on its authenticity, transparency, and relevance. Brand guru Mike Moser wrote: “The first step to having a cohesive brand is to have a cohesive company.”1 Today, brands extend past the characteristics of the product into its deeper DNA. Further, they are strengthened by consistency. The strong brand is the one that is aligned, inside and out.
People now engage with a brand because they align with its deeper values. Brand is about “relevancy and differentiation (with respect to the customer) and reputation is about legitimacy (of the organization with respect to a wide range of stakeholder groups).”2 These functions may report to different people on the inside, but the public makes no distinction. The evolving view takes into account that people are not discreet units to be labeled and targeted. Rather, they are participants in interactive communication who may wear many hats (e.g. shareholders, employees, suppliers, evangelists, and social activists). That is why we suggest creating effective communication today is not about managing it is about leading, that is, seeing to it that all members of the firm are connected to the values and purpose for which the organization is measured.
Marketers have learned that to sustain a value proposition, a firm must not only integrate the marketing communication of the offer it makes to customers, but must also integrate all of its functional activities that deliver the peripheral intangibles of the product experience. So, the goal is to integrate all aspects of the experience a customer may have with a product, whether it is a good, a service, or both.
Frederick Reichheld asserted that firms must ask the ultimate question: will my customers enthusiastically recommend my company/brand? His thesis is that “loyalty initiates a series of economic effects that cascade through the business system.”3 Ten years of research supported the idea that strong profits and healthy growth stem from a firm’s ability to develop customer promoters while reducing customer detractors. This challenge surpasses the focus or ability of the marketing function alone, or pure product innovation.
That is because products are vulnerable to copycats. It is relatively easy to reverse engineer a product innovation, it is much more difficult to knock off a firm’s well-adapted culture. As Edgar Schein claimed: culture is the way we do things around here. By definition, he said, culture is always “striving toward patterning and integration.“4 People have a need to make sense out of their worlds and seek stability. The communication leader must recognize the relationship between a firm’s mission and goals. Further, the leader must enable members of the organization to strike a balance between recognizing the changing demands of the external environment and the adaptive capacity of the internal integration. They are inextricably linked.
That is why the role of leadership is so important; it is the lever that coalesces a cohesive culture. After all, “a group cannot accomplish tasks, survive, and grow if it cannot manage it internal relationships.”5 It all starts on the inside. If your employees see their actions are inconsistent with the expectations of the external constituencies their discretionary actions will reflect the inconsistency. People don't like living a lie and no one likes being lied to, either.
The “Leadership” of Communication
Joseph Rost wrote: “Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes reflecting their mutual purposes.”6 To create effective, two-way, symmetric communication is to create leadership that reflects people’s need to make sense, to be purposeful, and to nurture a strong, well-adapted culture that aligns brand and reputation inside and out.
Management researcher Charles Fombrun wrote: “Companies develop winning reputations by both creating and projecting a set of skills that their constituents recognize as unique.”7 In marketing parlance, it is called positioning, and firms that clearly present a differential advantage, or bundle of benefits the customers value and believe they cannot get anywhere else achieve it, and enjoy a competitive advantage.8
In building both reputation and brand, it is the ongoing conversation about the firm—inside and out—that is aligning perception and reality. This conversation is based on real experiences and perceptions. Today we have an abundance of social / digital tools to help accomplish this objective. As adman Moser said, the first step to a cohesive company is having a cohesive brand. In communication today, we need alignment leaders who understand how to lead.
1 United We Brand by Mike Moser (2003)
2 Don't Confuse Reputation with Brand, MIT Sloan Management Review (2008)
3 The Loyalty Effect by Fred Reichheld (1996)
4 Organizational Culture and Leadership by Edgar Schein (2010)
6 Leadership for the 21st Century by Joseph C. Rost (1993)
7 Reputation: Realizing Value from the Corporate Image by Charles Fombrun (1996)
8 What is Marketing? by Alvin Silk (2006)