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Managing Brand Reputation

Recently, we’ve been working frequently with clients who want to change and grow their organization in ways that require them to first identify the existing brand reputation and audience perceptions. With these insights, we can begin thinking about how these perceptions will support or inhibit the desired goal. And as they plan for the future, how can these organizations efficiently and productively manage the reputation of their brand to support business objectives?

So where to begin? 

First, we need to be in agreement about what comprises a brand. Of course, the brand is much more than a logo or a name — we believe it’s an idea that’s defined by a promise and made real by human experience.  It’s both the emotional connection with key stakeholders and how you deliver on the rational aspects of those relationships.

In this kind of work, at Spark we like to begin by ensuring there is a detailed and thorough understanding of the reputation that exists and how that reputation was created.

This “reputation audit” should start inside the organization.  Employees – at all levels – have an important perspective that includes not only what the organization is trying to do, but also various ideas about how the brand is perceived externally.  Front line staff who deal with clients and prospects directly have valuable information about what the outside world thinks and why. Senior Executives can provide valuable insights about where the organization is headed and the perceived hurdles and opportunities.

At Spark, we regularly conduct interviews with senior executives to both understand business objectives and priorities, and get their individual perspectives and hypotheses on the brand’s possibilities.

We design and facilitate workshops with groups of employees from across an organization; These high energy, creative sessions are effective in unlocking the vast experience of employees while simultaneously engaging and empowering them with the process of brand evolution.

As we move outside the organization, using deep-dive, qualitative research approaches with customers, prospects and other stakeholder groups, are the key to uncovering the essence of their experience — what the brand means to them and what is possible for the future.

Building from What Is to What’s Possible

With an understanding of “what is,” we have a platform from which to build the desired perception of an organisation’s brand. We can determine the hurdles and opportunities in generating the desired perception and set an action plan to attain that goal.

Of course, measurement is key – both at the outset, to establish a baseline, and ongoing, to determine progress against the reputation goals. Testing ideas and actions with stakeholders through research allows us to hone our thinking before launching new initiatives.  Benchmarking against peers uncovers best practices and determines the competitiveness of our actions.

Managing brand reputation is complicated. It is affected by many factors including a company’s: overall performance, products and services, perceived leadership, innovation, performance as an employer, and its governance and citizenship efforts. For each factor, there are various attributes that stakeholders will assess as they form their perceptions; What’s important to one stakeholder group may not necessarily be important to another.  As perceptions can change over time, it’s important to continue regular monitoring and iterative testing.

Scott Bedbury, founder of Brandstream and former advertising director of Nike, once said, “A great brand is a story that is never completely told.” Your brand reputation is changing and developing whether you are managing it or not.  In our experience, great success comes from organizations keeping one eye on the present and one eye on the future — a combination of knowing what perceptions exist today and the opportunities and hurdles on the path to meeting your future goals.

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