However, routinely and unthinkingly equating brand with reputation is a slippery slope. Because reputation has to do with specific characteristics like those that Fortune uses to determine its most admired companies: "innovation, people management, financial soundness, quality of management, use of corporate assets, social responsibility, long-term investment and quality of products/services." On the other hand, there are no specific characteristics that determine a brand--the image that people have of the organization can be anything: happy, swift, responsive, down-home, fashionable, whatever. So theoretically you can have a great reputation (strong on the specific characteristics that compose a great reputation) and a weak brand (no unified image in the minds of your public).
So although you can say that in a way reputation and brand are the same, you have to be careful what questions you ask when you do an assessment...not to confuse reputation with brand. You have to ask different questions to get at what the reputation is and what the brand is.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there are specific metrics for assessing brand strength, and those should be included in the survey as well. I like Young & Rubicam's Brand Asset Valuator methodology, which measures the brand along four dimensions: differentiation, relevance, esteem, and knowledge. The more unique the brand, the more relevant it is to the customer, the more highly they think of it, and the better they know it, the stronger the brand. Note that "esteem" is aligned with reputation--so we could say that reputation is one element of the brand, not the brand in totality.
(See this article).
I’m thinking of the popularity of games like buzzword bingo (or “B.S. bingo”) where people attend meetings and cross out buzzwords as they’re spoken—the fun part is you get to yell out “Bingo” (or scream it silently to yourself) when you get five in a row. And of course there is “The Office” and “Dilbert.”
I wonder if, to employees, brand messages—no matter how well-intentioned or expensive—have the exact opposite effect they’re supposed to. Recently I stumbled on this essay--it gives you the idea:
"When I was working at Pizza Hut, they used to show us promotional videos for the new pizzas they were unveiling. These were not for the customers; no one would ever see them but employees, yet they were still expertly produced with fancy jump cuts, jingles, lighting, sound, everything. I have no doubt that they cost the company thousands of dollars a year. The intent was to get us excited about our work. They were trying to sell us on making pizzas. Rather than give us a raise, however small it might be, they decided to spend the money on an utterly worthless attempt to motivate us about something we already had to do."Yet if Pizza Hut were to give this employee more money, would he then want to watch the Pizza Hut internal video? Or would he find some other reason to reject it?
I guess my question is, if employees reject internal branding/marketing, what is the alternative? Should organizations simply say nothing to their people? Perhaps that’s exactly right. Maybe it’s time for organizations to listen to what their employees have to say FIRST, and then feed that back in the form of corporate communication. This goes along with the idea that brands are co-created between the producer (employer) and the user (in this case, the employee). If employees have stopped listening, then brands should stop talking until they hear something from the employees. That gives them a place to begin.
News just broke that astronauts were reportedly drunk before flying and a NASA subcontractor employee sabotaged the shuttle Endeavour. It wasn't that long ago, the report notes, that astronaut Lisa Nowak was accused of attacking her "romantic rival" with pepper spray. And let's not forget the shooting at Johnson Space Center in Houston by an employee who ended up killing himself. They better do something to repair their image, and fast!
Here is an interesting contrast between two celebrity brands...two female entertainers who are famously troubled, but whose brands are affected in different ways.
First, Lindsay Lohan, who recently denied having done drugs. Honestly, even if she did, I am 99% sure it doesn't affect her brand. Why? Because Lohan has always been an out of control type party girl. That is her brand promise --trouble. I don't foresee any negative impact on her career at all. That doesn't mean that her behavior is OK, but it does mean that in the marketplace, you are judged on how well you align to your brand -- even if your brand is a negative one. Her movies will still get insured--no worries--and her movie "I Know Who Killed Me" is going to be a major hit. (Predictions are that ticket sales will be even higher than projected due to interest in her personal life.)
Now, Britney Spears is another matter. Her career may as well be over. It's not because she keeps doing strange, out of control things--like letting her dog poop on a designer dress at a recent photo shoot, running off with her kids to Vegas in the middle of a custody battle, or, of course, shaving her head--but because her brand is all to do with innocence. We used to trust Britney to be an innocent teen who, although she pushed the boundaries a bit, was fundamentally a good girl. Now she has gone completely over the edge. From that, her brand cannot recover.
Strangely, the press is reporting that Britney recently called Lindsay to empathize over their mutual problems. I wonder if that call was made out of Britney's desperate hope to be a soul sister with someone whose career is on the rise despite having her image trashed in public.
My point is, this obsession has been good for the Apple brand in that it has created a point of relevant differentiation -- i.e. it's a different approach to technology and people like it -- but bad in that it's gone too far, especially with the lack of a keypad on the iPhone.
Results? Early iPhone sales are disappointing, although not everyone is concerned that this means the phones are a bust.
Marketing experts are having fun disagreeing on the prospects for the gadget. My prediction: it will be a big flop.
"Kim Lopdrup, president of Red Lobster, says that the marketing initiative is part of a three-stage effort to revamp the brand. The first phase involved improving operations so that customers got what they ordered and did not have to wait too long. The second phase is aimed at changing the public image and perception. The third part will be dedicated to increasing sales at existing restaurants and perhaps adding locations."The only question I have for Red Lobster is, did they revamp operations in a branded way - did they educate employees on the new image and how operational changes would enhance it - or did they just focus on straightforward customer service changes? Because it makes a difference...especially since (aside from the food) the restaurant is only as good as the kind of service provided by its waiters and waitresses.
This is either a very smart move or a very misguided one. I say smart because through his actions he is showing that he feels he is in the right, an assertion that people may ultimately accept. I say misguided because if people believe he is in the wrong then no amount of effort on his part will help the Department, other than to resign. Right now, his major problem is that public perception--rightly or wrongly--is that he is at the heart of the scandal.
"I believe very strongly that there is no place for political considerations in the hiring of our career employees or in the administration of justice," he said. "As such, these allegations have been troubling to hear. From my perspective, there are two options available in light of these allegations. I would walk away or I could devote my time, effort and energy to fix the problems. Since I have never been one to quit, I decided that the best course of action was to remain here and fix the problems."
If he is going to pursue this strategy my suggestion to Gonzalez is that he start his campaign by convincing employees of his rightness, because they are a critical audience to carry the message forward both internally and externally. First you clean up your house, then the rest of the world.
If Gonzalez does so, let's hope he fares better than former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, who, when he apologized to employees for providing professional help to a World Bank employee with whom he was involved (not that Gonzalez is apologizing), got booed and hissed with chants to "Resign. Resign."
"You talk to all the stakeholders, starting with the customers. You also look at the macro economics, the economy. You talk to customers, dealers, Ford employees, UAW, your suppliers, your investors, everybody."I wonder, in all those conversations, did anybody talk about the brand? Because Ford's brand is dying. The "Bold Moves" campaign is a terrible betrayal of its brand heritage--affordable safety. ("Bold moves" are exactly the opposite of what a safety-conscious driver does.) Remember the Ford Taurus? A great car. And now there is talk of Ford selling Volvo, the brand that defines safety. What are they doing over there? Why don't they leverage the brand equity they have built up over time?
Actually, no. Brand-building is about creating a very specific kind of relationship between an organization and its stakeholders, a relationship in which the stakeholders understand 1) that the organization exists 2) what an organization is promising to do for them and 3) what they must do in return to obtain goods or services from the organization (pay a fee, comply with specific rules, etc.). Ideally, to have strength, that relationship will be based on an image of the organization that is positive, high-level, and conceptually abstract—representing something more than just what the organization does on a day-to-day basis. For example, the Coast Guard arguably stands for “bravery,” not just “protecting the nation’s waterways.”
In a federal agency context, branding is accomplished through “disseminating information to the citizenry about the agency, its policies, practices, and products,” a role for public affairs that is specifically allowed by the Government Accountability Office. (Branding is also accomplished through the actions of the agency itself, but the public affairs officer has no control over that except to try and explain those actions.)
People who think agencies shouldn’t build a brand don’t understand the distinction between brand-building as a process and a brand as an outcome. The process is about sharing information to help key stakeholders understand what the organization is about and how they should relate to it. The outcome is indeed a well-known name that is associated with certain promises.
(Now, there can be a very fine line between disseminating information about what an agency is and does for the sake of promoting positive compliance with agency rules, and promoting that agency’s existence just for the sake of getting the public to be aware of the name. The difference has to do with intent.)
So far it may sound like agency branding begins and ends with citizen education initiatives. Yet this is far from the case, because the brand is shaped by all the communication that goes on about and around it. We can issue press releases on our website until we are blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is that the public is equally if not more influenced by others who are disseminating communication about us:
- The press writes about our rules and requirements as well as any other story of interest to the public that concerns our agency;
- Congress will hold hearings about programs, events, and incidents that affect our agency; and
- The public will write about our communication and actions themselves, for example, in blogs and other social media vehicles such as Wikipedia.
All of those communications affect our brand because they affect the way the public understands and relates to us. So if we are to maintain a positive relationship with the public, in which the public understands who we are, what we do, and why we do it, we are responsible for engaging with all of these communicators to make sure that our message is clear. When we write op-eds in the press, respond to Congressional invitations to testify, and respond to citizen questions on our website, we are also branding the agency. Again, the end goal is to create and sustain a relationship with the public (not to mention our own employees) that is productive, leading to rules being followed with a sense of pride and enthusiasm for supporting the higher-level purpose of the agency.
If branding makes sense and is allowed, why does it seem to be in such short supply in the federal government? Perhaps this is due to the common, but misguided view that a public affairs officer’s job is limited to simply supplying information about particular incidents, events, and programs without telling a broader story about what the agency is, why it exists, and how those incidents, events, and programs work together. It is important to tell the larger story in order to impress upon the public mind that the agency is a cohesive whole, and not just an assortment of individual sub-departments dealing with isolated incidents. It is possible that many federal public affairs officers shy away from creating that bigger picture because they don’t want to be seen as promoting the agency for its own sake—that they are afraid of being seen as propagandizing.
The reality is, there are very few strong federal agency brands. And those brands that are strong—like the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, the FBI and the CIA—have become well-known not necessarily because of their public affairs offices, but because they have become visible through their extraordinary actions as portrayed in the news, on TV, and in the movies. For example, in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Coast Guard rose to the rescue, with images of Coast Guard leadership saturating the media. And there have been many memorable portrayals of Secret Service, FBI and CIA agents in the movies and on TV.
Has anyone tried to build a federal agency brand from within a federal agency? No doubt many agencies are engaging in branding to some extent or another. But until we get rid of that dangerous misconception that branding is equivalent to propagandizing, they will likely encounter obstacles that prevent them from being fully successful.
The bottom line: for maximum effectiveness, federal agencies should engage in more than just providing information—they need to brand. Not for the sake of creating a name, but because it’s the way to build the best possible relationship they can with the American people—increasing compliance with agency rules and demonstrating to the taxpayer that their dollars are being invested wisely.
I am not advocating one way or the other for the passage of legislation, but just want to note that from a brand perspective the FOIA problem is troubling. For in order to build a good relationship with the public, the agency must build up a relationship of trust with them. And that trust depends on a free flow of information to the greatest extent that is legally possible. After all, government agencies are entrusted by the taxpayer to fulfill many critical missions. Those missions are the "brand promise." Therefore, taxpayers need to know to what extent those missions are being fulfilled--or not.
Now, being honest about possible shortcomings does not necessarily compromise the brand. An agency can theoretically be failing in its mission yet have strong brand equity with the public. The key question is, does the public trust that the agency is doing everything it possibly can, given the resources it has, to fulfill the mission?
A new article in Fortune magazine, "What's Your OQ," (7/23/07) talks about the importance of reaching employees through their informal social networks rather than through the formal chain of command. These networks are seen as key in persuading employees to make needed cultural changes.
An old article from the New York Times, "Brand Blogs Capture the Attention of Some Companies," talks about informal channels of influence that people have on brands (such as Starbucks and Netflix) by starting blogs dedicated to those brands. Other consumers read them and the brand owners themselves sometimes turn to the bloggers for advice.
What both of these articles have in common is the recognition that formal corporatespeak, and formal rules, regulations, and channels of communication, are a turnoff. People want to hear from other people like themselves--that's what motivates them to listen and possibly change their behaviors. As the NYT article says, a Yankelovich marketing survey found that
"a third of all consumers would prefer to receive product information from friends and specialists rather than from advertising."This is something to keep in mind for branding, whether internally or externally. Employees and consumers alike want to hear from real people, not the PR department. So the marketing has to be doubly sophisticated...recruiting regular people to spread the word virally. Now even as I write this it sounds like old news, don't we all know that already. But how many brand initiatives actually turn to real people to spread the word? For example, how many companies have set up internal and/or external blogs/wikis/communities of practice dedicated solely to letting real people discuss the brand?
You are thinking that the reason they haven't is the fear of nasty words. If we open the floodgates, the fear goes, people will rush in to destroy the kingdom. But that fear is not well founded. As the NYT article mentioned, even in a blogging environment, people are likely to steer the discussion in a balanced direction. And as I heard at the recent Government Communicators Conference, this includes correcting others who seem to be veering off the path. I also recently heard presentations by
So let's get to the real fear--the fear of not being good enough. Branders are afraid that they are not executing well on the brand promise and that is why consumers (and/or their own employees) can't be relied upon to act as ambassadors in informal settings. So they turn to marketing collateral like advertising, posters, brochures, newsletters and the like to try and "control" the conversation and the impressions that people get. The truth is, all of that may succeed in getting someone initially interested in the brand. But to keep the brand going, there has to be independent validation of it by the target audience.
A good example of this is the iPhone. Great great ad campaign leading up to its launch. But then people started questioning whether it lives up to the hype. I saw one blog posting talking about the hidden costs behind the contract that AT&T imposes for using the service. Another question arose about how well the internet connection worked. A third issue I heard about was the keyboard--not a great typing experience. So for me the initial impression was great, but subsequent informal feedback made me want it a lot less.
How could Apple do better? How about addressing all these points through public usability testing...set up a news conference or create an ad and let us watch people work through all these issues. For goodness sake, even have the AT&T rep on hand to answer questions. And then if the issues are persistent, redesign the phone or the AT&T contract or the internet connection to work as well as the initial hype suggested.
That's good branding in a nutshell--keep your promises and let the public keep you honest if you aren't.
Going back to the subject of influencing employees--as was recently noted, one thing Apple did right with its employees was to give them each an iPhone for free. This is not only a gesture of goodwill but also of confidence in the product...because if they don't like it or can't use it they won't be able to sell it. Smart--even though it remains to be seen how it pays off.