Take note of the intersection of brand and reputation

Why aren't the people who manage my company's brand and those who manage my company's reputation on the same page? That's the question increasingly being asked by CEOs who are leading high-performing companies.

Why aren't the people who manage my company's brand and those who manage my company's reputation on the same page? That's the question increasingly being asked by CEOs who are leading high-performing companies. It is a reasonable request from an executive who must preside over more complexity in the business but knows there is great flexibility when it comes to ways to communicate.

Too often the answer to the CEO isn't what it should be…

Years of legacy marketing and communication structures, combined with a growing sophistication in communication channels, have created too much land-grabbing and silo-building between marketing and corporate communications.

Last week, the Council of PR Firms and Harris Interactive released “A Hidden Harmony,” a piece of research that is worth noting. In essence, it demonstrated that the combination of positive brand equity and positive corporate reputation produced stronger results together than either could alone.

In this era, the alignment between brand and reputation is what drives success and opportunity.

Taking advantage of that opportunity requires a dramatic change in the traditional approach organizations have taken to brand and reputation management, one where managing relationships is central to success. It is about leading, guiding, and participating effectively in the multi-directional conversations taking place about your organization. It's about truly connecting with and building an ongoing relationship with all your stakeholders.

That demands the coordination of many once-separate disciplines: Not only marketing and communications, but also government and regulatory relations, financial communications, employee engagement, sales, and customer service.

This approach actively balances the organization's messages with the concerns and reactions of every audience, and recognizes that audiences actively communicate with one another directly.

When that alignment occurs in a planned, managed, proactive, and genuine way, it creates authentic engagement – real, genuine conversation with all audiences that creates shared momentum and real progress.

This is a new call to action for our industry -- one that requires us to draw a map for how we organize ourselves and tackle the challenges of brand and reputation. In the future, those who are interested in creating truly authentic engagement will take up this challenge:

Be as you wish to be seen. Invest in the attributes you want to be known for. Make sure the attributes matter to your key audiences and communicate them. Behave as the company, or the person, you want your audiences to think you are.

Work holistically. In managing brand and reputation, create a culture and an organizational structure that view the two as inextricably intertwined. No organization can afford to have brand and reputation remain divided. No longer can we think of them as separate entities to be managed and measured by separate functions. They must be viewed together.

Scope all audiences. Understand that to truly create progress, the viewpoints of all audiences – not just consumers – must be understood and addressed through both the brand and reputation.

Think in terms of values, value, and valuation. Have good values, and live up to them in decisions, actions, and relationships. Do your organization's decisions and priorities reflect your stated values? Are your company's values the same as constituents' values? Define the value that is created in each relationship. Make sure it is sufficient to support the valuation you want – whether that is product pricing, talent compensation, stock price, or some other valuation.

Make it everyone's job. Make brand and reputation management a part of every discipline – everyone's responsibility – not just a function of communications or marketing.

Align measurement against specific business outcomes for both brand and reputation. Everything must have a clear connection to how it helps achieve a business goal.

When brand and reputation are out of sync, it creates a barrier to success and growth – and in some cases, it's a destructive force. It is the central issue that every organization must solve today. The opportunity to take our game to a higher playing field is one that absolutely can't be overlooked.

Marjorie Benzkofer is the global leader of Fleishman-HIllard's reputation management practice.

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