Brand or Reputation?

Identifying and resolving a common company challenge

A common challenge for companies is their customers misunderstanding who a company is and what it does. Usually, this is identified as being either a brand or reputation problem. These two issues are typically intertwined, and one can be a symptom of another. But to identify and fix the true problem takes not just sleuthing: you have to truly understand the difference between the two to understand if what you are observing is a symptom or the true cause of what you are observing.

A brand represents how a company or organization communicates who it is and what it does. Reputation represents how a company is perceived by the public, beyond customers and prospects. Often communications professionals confuse brand and reputation problems because they do have an intertwined, cause-and-effect relationship. However, they have very different diagnoses and solutions.

Reputation issues are related to your organization’s public image based on people’s experience of it through products, reviews, analyst opinions, news, the behaviors of employees— everything. In some ways, you could say that a company’s reputation is reflective of how the customer experience is perceived by the public. You can’t control what others think of you or your organization, but you can try to influence this perception through your brand, press interviews and releases, messaging, activities, popular employees and executives, customers, or great products and promotions. However, in the end, the public will have their own perception of your company and products. Reputation management tends to include PR activities, positioning/messaging strategies and activities, and content strategy. 

Although a brand is a factor that determines an organization’s reputation, if a brand is not well communicated and an organization loses control in how it communicates about itself, press about the organization and its leaders will 100 percent guide people’s perceptions of it. In some ways, an organziation’s leaders’ actions should reflect the brand values, but that’s not always true. That’s usually where disconnects between brands and reputations occur. 

Your brand represents your company’s personality and is traditionally communicated to the public through logos, colors, and messaging in various tactics and channels. In today’s digital companies, customer experiences are also communicating brands. An organization’s values should be included in the interaction design. Brand effectiveness is measured through the impression that marketing materials and communication plan activities leave on people who experience them. Measurements validate that the brand is being communicated as intended. 

A gap in your organization’s reputation and brand communication may highlight how individuals in your organization don’t embrace brand values or how activities promote a public perception contrary to the brand. Or there may be an element of the brand that is being subconsciously communicated to the public through unofficial channels because the brand communication is not openly embracing a specific quality or characteristic. Or the customer experience doesn’t represent the brand values, instead communicating a very different message about the company through products or services. 

Most times, the issue your company is having in its communication is brand related rather than reputation related. A poor reputation may result from how a company interacts with stakeholders, but if that company was following its brand values in its decisions and communications from the start, I would argue that such a mishap probably wouldn’t happen. And if the brand communication itself was the problem, by shifting it slightly, the ccompany coud create a differernt customer experience that more accurately represents the company itself.  How people experience your company starts with how they experience the brand. First, get clear on who your company is, what it does, and how it can help your customers. Then check to be sure that your visual and verbal elements accurately communicate that. That exercise can clarify how you construct and design your company’s customer experiences and further develop customer relationships. By more accurately communicating your company’s brand through its visual and verbal identity and reflecting that in the customer experiences, you will improve your connections with stakeholders. This will ultimately improve its perceived reputation to stakeholders, locally, in an industry, and globally.  Brand is the center of any company because it communicates it’s identity. Who it is. What it does. How it operates. A brand is the same as a person’s personality. And one’s reputation emerges from how people experience that.