Organisations that don’t understand the difference between corporate reputation and brand are in danger of being trapped in a perpetual cycle of crises, according to Plus 94 Research chief executive Sifiso Falala.
“The first thing you expose your company to is a higher risk of reputational see-saw, and a crisis management culture,” he says.
“Secondly, there is no guarantee of acceptance and respect from your business stakeholders. In the long term, aspects around workplace environment, vision and leadership are not assured, and you are not going to be competitive in attracting the best talent or innovating within your company. Sales performance and sales margins will be compromised.”
The mistake can arise because neither brand nor reputation are physical assets, though both share goals and are shaped by communication. While brand can be understood to be about stakeholder perceptions that can be controlled, reputation is beyond an organisation’s control. For example, a good brand impression can be created through a smart advertising campaign, but you can’t advertise your way to a good reputation. Branding can make you relevant, while reputation makes you credible.
“A company’s brand image is the sum total of all the perceptions held by its current, past, and potential customers about the company’s products and services. ‘Brand’ has attributes such as quality, value, variety and the customer experience,” says Falala.
A reputation is far more than that.
“Reputation is the entirety of the public’s opinion about a company’s corporate actions. In a nutshell, if brand is image plus identity, reputation is these two combined plus the character of the business, or the embodiment of the business as a person.”
Tshepo Sefotlhelo, operations director at Vuma Reputation Management, says that reputation can’t be bought. “You pay money to build your brand, by hiring an advertising agency, for example. You cannot buy reputation. You have to earn it, and it takes time. So if you are a company that promises to be a one-stop shop for solutions, you can build your reputation by fulfilling that promise.”
Conversations, Media & Communications chief executive Vincent Magwenya concurs, saying that “brand” refers to customers’ experience of the product, while reputation is about how an organisation lives up to its commitments to its various stakeholders. Public relations or branding exercises can never be the sum total of reputation-building for an organisation.
Reputation depends on the behaviour of the entire organisation, not just its leadership. It is that intangible impression that is made upon the mind of any person who interacts with any employee of an organisation, so it is a mistake to think of it as being merely the concern of management.
Magwenya says: “Managing corporate reputation is not just a functional exercise by public relations practitioners. Corporate reputation sits at the heart of every business, and is a shared responsibility of everybody in that organisation. The responsibility ultimately sits at C-suite level.
“PR may facilitate opportunities to enhance or build reputation, but the responsibility sits across the business. It is in the day-to-day conduct of all employees that reputation starts to become real.”