Getting personal with reputation
We hear a lot these days about how people are becoming brands. And for that matter how brands are becoming people. All self-respecting brands have a personality, cleverly developed and documented by marketing professionals and zealously guarded to ensure all communications express what the company wants stakeholders to hear about itself.
In my view, this concept extends to corporate reputation. If you view an organisation as a person, it quickly acts as a great filter through which to assess reputation, highlight what’s important and identify improvement areas.
I believe this reputational filter works on three levels: Behaviour, Talents and Values.
Behaviour: how people behave in all the varied situations they find themselves in translates to the basis of personal reputation. A company is perceived similarly; not just in the ‘easy’ aspects of its corporate life, like communicating about its products and services, but also in the more challenging circumstances where the concepts of integrity or fairness come to the forefront. I’d argue it’s the consistency of these behaviours that communicates the fundamental reputation of an individual or a company, and what is likely to stick in stakeholders’ minds over time.
Talents: we all know hugely talented individuals; those friends who are brilliant at playing a musical instrument, the colleague who can get the most unlikely prospects to buy what they are selling. So it is with companies – not just in the core products or services they provide, but in their talent for delivering it innovatively, with humour, surprise or whichever manner is most consistent with the personality that stakeholders know and expect. And when these talents fall below or run counter to stakeholder expectations, that is when companies encounter a reputation gap.
Values: perhaps this is the most fundamental aspect of personal reputation, yet also the most challenging to uncover and adhere to in our own lives, values are what we hold dear to ourselves, where we can act on our truest instincts, knowing what we feel to be right or wrong and act accordingly. These values can express themselves not just in our talents and behaviours, but also in the company we keep. We all know tales of people who fall in with the ‘wrong crowd’, or act outside of expectations. Although that might not change their talents and behaviours, this guilt by association can speak volumes about a personal reputation. The example is easily extended to corporates; turning a blind eye to poor behaviours, associating with less scrupulous suppliers or clients, cutting corners to secure a strong financial quarter or tolerating less savoury practices in return for high performance all go against a values-driven organisation that end up affecting reputation internally and externally.
Breaking down reputation into these three areas, measuring it among the most important stakeholders and identifying the most influential aspects of each helps companies understand their reputations better, and serves as an outstanding platform on which to plan strategic communications.