Here’s the latest proof that life isn’t fair. Creating and managing your company’s reputation takes a significant amount of time and effort, while all it takes to damage (or destroy) that reputation may be a few hours or days. This is why you must manage your reputation and how your brand can be perceived by potential business associates and clients.
The Significance of a Corporate Brand
Among my many conversations with CEOs and business owners, I’ve encountered some confusion about the distinction between corporate brand and corporate reputation. Your brand or “image” reflects your organization’s commitment to excellence and your relationship with various constituencies from current and potential customers, employees, partners, competitors and the public at large. It’s what sets your business apart and helps attract customers, based on an understanding of the added value you bring to the marketplace.
Your reputation is the perception held by these same constituencies. It’s the bond of trust you have earned among customers that also differentiates you from the competition. Brand and reputation are closely intertwined, and each must be managed and monitored at all times. I’m talking about actions you can take to maintain a positive reputation and actions you can take to repair damage if and when it occurs.
Whatever your business, you’re at least partly subject to the reputation of the industry you’re in (think of the airline industry, for example). When you commit to always acting in a responsible and ethical manner, you lessen any negative impression among consumers about shortcomings in the industry in general. It comes back to trust – there’s no more precious element in the business/customer relationship and it’s worth all the time and hard work you put in to earn and keep it.
Taking Responsibility of Your Own Reputation
The responsibility for reputation management isn’t something you should delegate to a corporate department or (worse) an outside agency. Experts can help, of course; they know a lot about the subject and their counsel can be invaluable. But a CEO or business owner who acts as steward of the company’s reputation is best positioned to remain diligent and protective of it.
A challenge to your reputation usually centers on a specific incident or complaint. Some challenges can be anticipated, and I recommend intermittent “war-planning sessions” in which worst-case scenarios are envisioned and addressed. Other challenges seem to come out of the blue. We’ve all seen how ineffective certain responses can be – evasion, stonewalling, and outright denial (particularly when it’s known there’s cause for complaint). Such responses are natural, but always ill-advised.
What’s the Most Effective Approach to Manage Your Reputation?
Make an objective appraisal of the situation. Acknowledge that a problem exists. Design an honest and timely response. Regardless of the specific incident, your business is judged on how it reacts. The actions you take can enhance your company’s reputation or cause serious, if not irrefutable damage. Only by taking a proactive approach to manage your reputation and making it an ongoing priority can you be assured that you’re both continuing to build your business and protecting it against the unknown future.