Corporate brands need to step up. Now is the time to rethink your corporate brand in light of the new expectations and interactions it faces.
Once upon a time, we could categorize stakeholders by their occupations. Today, stakeholders can create themselves by their level of advocacy, and the tools to create that advocacy have become much more democratized and scalable. Individuals can become influencers quickly and with global reach. Their advocacy may be aimed at a particular product, but as often as not, they pierce the corporate veil and go straight to the corporate brand. Why do this? Because people are smart. They understand that products don't make decisions, companies do; products don't run afoul of labor standards, companies do; and products don't have environmental problems, companies do.
Occupy Wall Street protestors are camping on Wall Street and in front of corporate headquarters, not in front of manufacturing plants. They understand where decisions are made better than ever before. Therefore, activists are going to have expectations for corporate brands that take into consideration the products or services of the company but are also distinct from their expectations of the products and services. They focus instead on the conduct of the company and its role and interactions with society. Those expectations will also differ by stakeholder and will have varied leverage in shaping a company's reputation.
The good news is that it isn't all a zero-sum game. I believe there is real power for companies that are able to create strong corporate brands. They cast a halo over the company's products and make it much easier for it to take risks and recover from mistakes that for companies with weak brands would be near-fatal.
The other good news is that the resources required to build a strong corporate brand are trivial compared to the investment in product brands. While there are myriad audiences, they tend to be more discrete rather than mass-market. So, the cost per person will be higher, the overall cost substantially lower, and the leverage greater since the corporate reputation can be spread across the entire enterprise.
Robert Schooling is president for the Americas at APCO Worldwide. He is also chief evangelist for the agency's Champion Brand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.