Let's talk about brands for a minute. I think this may be an area where semantics have overtaken common sense. I've read heated online exchanges about the difference between brand and reputation, but the difference when discussing corporate brands seems only one of perspective. The brand is the promise, the reputation is the success in delivering on that promise.
When we talk about corporate brands, what are we really talking about? It is the promise those brands are making to a range of potential stakeholders about what they can expect from the company. With that in mind, I am always stunned when a company gives short shrift to its corporate brand under the delusion that “no one is buying the corporate brand – they're buying the products.” Some companies argue that they have only a few audiences for corporate brands – policy-makers, investors, and employees – and so it is unnecessary to invest in those brands. That point of view may have been viable a few decades ago, but today it simply doesn't hold water. And even if those were the only audiences paying attention the corporate brand, they would be among the most critical to the success of the company.
A few trends are driving the importance of corporate brands – I think technology is probably the most profound in the way it has altered the relationship between individuals and organizations. This manifests itself in almost countless ways, but just to take one example, just imagine the number of channels through which you could receive information about a company 10 years ago: local paper, national paper, annual report, perhaps a few newsletters. Today, however, you can have almost unlimited data and commentary delivered to your email or mobile phone, every day, every hour, on almost any topic you want.
Moreover, the communication isn't merely a direct, one-way exchange between the company and a handful of interested parties. The premise of today's technology is that communication channels are an ever-expanding web that draw more and more people into the discussion.
Transparency has undergone a revolution unheard of since the printing press, but the philosophy governing how corporate brands are communicated has barely evolved over the same period of time. That's not going to work.
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.