Malcolm Gooderham, TLG: Make a value judgement

Politicians know they must express the public's values - so must the corporate sector.

Brands that change attitudes and behaviour are the real Thought Leaders. There is a significant relationship between being a Thought Leader brand and having a strong reputation. Revealingly, however, corporate brands rarely invest the same amount of time in managing their corporate brand as they do their sub-brands. This is short-sighted and a false economy because corporate brands have the potential to provide a competitive advantage.

When assessing the reputation challenge, often the best place to start is to identify the organisation's Thought Leadership position. TLG defines Thought Leaders as individuals or organisations that successfully drive attitudinal and behavioural change. This type of leadership has three positive effects. First, it generates a positive, competitive point of differentiation. Second, it delivers key positive social benefits, demonstrating the benign power of the brand. Third, it forges 'core values connections' and strategic relationships with key stakeholders.

So what does this mean in practice? To be successful, brands must distinguish their offering, typically at a functional and emotional level. Behavioural change is key to this. It enables brands to engage audiences and decision-makers at an emotional level.

This can be seen in Ariel's 'Turn to 30' campaign, which encouraged users to run their washing machines at lower temperatures. The benefits a brand brings need to go beyond the immediate product or service. Increasingly, they must deliver a social benefit to distinguish their company and build the corporate brand. The benefit must be either inherent to the brand or derived through taking responsibility for a key 'externality'.

Innocent is a good example of the former. As an example of the latter, look at how Coca-Cola is taking responsibility for its product after sale with its recycling initiatives. It will be interesting to watch the two brands manage their marriage to leverage their respective strengths.

Given the array of issues that corporate brands face, it is important to correctly identify the issue to lead with. This should be linked to the capacity to build advocates for the brand and a new consensus about its values and motives.

At TLG, we have a preferred approach that rests in part on understanding and identifying where the leadership vacuum meets the zeitgeist issue and the brand truth.

Furthermore, we believe that companies are misguided if they focus exclusively on issues-alignment to build brand equity. It only informs campaigns on what audiences feel at a certain time. Tracking and adapting campaigns may be good business for opinion research companies, but the comms departments have to hit a moving target.

An alternative that TLG promotes is 'horizon shifting', which looks beyond this and targets values. Values don't change from month to month and, as political polling reveals, if you can capture the electorate's values you will win.

We believe in translating this principle to the corporate sector and encouraging corporate brands to reflect and express the values of their audiences in their propositions.

Ultimately, we believe it is how a company does business that defines its reputation, not just what it sells. So a Thought Leadership approach is integral to success. It generates positive social and commercial outcomes. This makes the company commercially and culturally relevant - the best way to become a 'Big Society' brand.

Views in brief

- What is the most important lesson to have emerged from the BP saga?

The value of empathy. View the world through the lens of your stakeholders. And hire local PR specialists.

- To what extent do dwindling public sector budgets offer an opportunity for corporate CSR programmes to fill the void?

None. Business needs to generate positive social outcomes to survive - not as a bespoke programme.

Malcolm Gooderham is managing director of TLG

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