Building Brand Reputation – Part 1

Building brand reputation is a critical component of any brand strategy, and there are more opportunities to develop, monitor, and protect your brand reputation than ever these days thanks to the accessibility of the Internet. Brands can build reputations and listen to consumer conversations to ensure their brand reputations are positive. You’ll learn about all of these things in my new series here on the AYTM blog, Building Brand Reputation, but first, you’ll learn what brand reputation is and how to define yours.

brand reputationWhat Is Brand Reputation?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines reputation as the overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general. The Cambridge Dictionary defines reputation as the general opinion that people have about someone or something. Both of these dictionary definitions have something in common: judging or opinion. In other words, reputation is based on individual perceptions of a person’s (or brand’s) character.

Brand reputation is similar to personal reputation. Think of some of the people in your life. What are their reputations? Think of celebrities and consider their reputations. You can do the same with brands. In a 2011 study by Harris Interactive, the brand reputation of Google topped all other U.S. brands. In other words, consumers perceive the Google brand in a very positive light.

Many factors go into creating a brand reputation, and some can outweigh others by a considerable amount. For example, consider the Google brand reputation. It’s not all good. People aren’t happy with the amount of information Google collects about them. However, Google’s products are so useful, that people place less weight on lack of privacy when evaluating the Google brand reputation. That’s not the case for Facebook — a brand that offers a useful tool but people place more weight on privacy concerns when evaluating the Facebook brand reputation than they do when evaluating the Google brand reputation.

In other words, evaluating brand reputation is a personal thing, and no two brands are evaluated exactly the same by all people.

Brand Reputation vs. Brand Promise

A critical mistake that companies make when developing brand reputation is confusing brand reputation with brand promise. These are two very different things. Think of it this way — the brand promise is customer focused. It promises value, differentiation, relevancy, and perceived usefulness. Brand reputation is company focused and comes from the success (or failure) of the company to deliver on that promise.

Richard Effenson and Jonathan Knowles of MIT Sloan Management explained it like this, “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, including but not limited to customers).”

In other words, it’s the company’s responsibility to ensure the brand promise is carried through in every aspect of the business in order to earn the right brand reputation to match that promise. Therefore, branding should be a fundamental priority for every business. As Michael Bayer of The Holmes Report says, “If reputation is earned in service to the brand promise, then management must run the business in service of the brand, too. If the integrity of the corporation, the brand, and the management team is on the line every day, what more important job do we have than preserving that?”

Defining Your Brand Reputation

Before you can define the brand reputation that you want consumers to perceive, you need to define your brand promise. Remember, your brand reputation is the proof that your company is living and delivering on your brand promise. Ask yourself the following questions to define the brand reputation you want to develop:

  • How do you want consumers to perceive your brand?
  • How is that perception different from the way consumers perceive the brand reputations of your competitors?
  • If your brand were a person, what reputation would it have?
  • What traits do you want consumers to associate with your brand?
  • What would you like consumers to say about your brand reputation?
  • What do you not want consumers to say about your brand reputation?
  • Does your desired brand reputation match your brand promise?
  • Is your desired brand reputation one that your leadership team, employees, vendors, investors, and other stakeholders will support?
  • Will consumers believe your desired brand reputation?

Once you define the brand reputation you want consumers to believe, you can start working on developing that brand reputation. That’s the topic of Part 2 of the Building Brand Reputation series, so stay tuned!

Image: Constantin Deaconescu

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Gunelius
Susan Gunelius, MBA is a 25-year marketing and branding expert and President and CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She is the author of 10 books about marketing, branding and social media, and her marketing-related articles appear on top media websites such as Entrepreneur.com and Forbes.com. She is also the Founder and Editor in Chief of WomenOnBusiness.com, an award-winning blog for business women.