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Brand Management and Reputation Management: Separate & Equally Important

This one is pretty simple.

* Brand = the image that people have of you.

* Reputation = whether people think you have integrity.

Here's where the two concepts come into play:

* Good brands require a good reputation, for obvious reasons. Think of hotel brands, for example: The Four Seasons. The Ritz-Carlton. Hilton. Marriott. All of them have both. Or take car brands. Or banking brands. You wouldn't stay loyal to a business that didn't deliver, would you?

* At the same time, you can have an excellent reputation and yet a weak brand. Recall Burberry before its revamp - quality clothes, but boring. Same goes for Talbots. In fact many companies offer high-quality goods that nobody is interested in - because they offer the steak, but without the sizzle.

The one thing that both brand and reputation have in common is that they depend on what the audience thinks of the company. Not on what the company thinks about itself.

The bottom line for individuals and companies alike is that branding and reputation management are both essential activities, but they are not the same:

* Reputation management is far broader and encompasses proactive definition of oneself as having credibility and trustworthiness. It also involves defensive maneuvers against attack.

* Brand management is extremely narrowly focused and has to do with defining oneself as uniquely qualified and relevant to one's customers on an ongoing basis - as they evolve, so do you.

At all times, smart companies continually reinvent their brands to be relevant to the customer AND ALSO respond to criticism. They don't depend on their brands to carry their reputations and they don't assume that their strong reputations will carry their brands.

Look at Starbucks, my favorite brand of all time (though I hate what it is doing to the brand right now). The company is reinventing itself (via a logo change) to be global in nature as opposed to U.S.-focused. At the same time, on a parallel and different track, they respond to criticism of all kinds.

Emulate Starbucks. Emulate Google. Emulate Facebook. Begin with the principle of robust communication around the brand and transparency about the company's activities. The willingness to listen, learn and be accountable can take you nearly everywhere you need to be.

Are You An Online Or An Offline Brand?

Did you see that item on the news yesterday, about the lady who texted her way into a fountain at the mall?

Apparently she was so intent on her device that she didn't look up until it was too late and she got soaked.

I saw that on TV and I saw myself in that clip. For if you were to run into me in real life, most likely I would be intent on a screen. Probably two.

In fact I would go so far as to say that I actually don't feel comfortable unless I am very close to a screen. Either writing, or scanning Twitter or discussion boards or the news, or even watching a video on YouTube.

If not that, then emailing or (occasionally) on the phone.

But when it comes to real-world, face-to-face conversation, I actually find it very difficult to interact.

I would think that I am odd except there seem to be articles about this everywhere, and I personally observe it too. After work and school, family members routinely retreat to their screens. And very often family time consists of yet more screens – watching TV (the "little screen") together, or occasionally (for a splurge) the "big-screen": a movie.

The Wall Street Journal had an article where an expert talked about tech time-outs – that we should try to wean our families off the screens a little bit so that we can enjoy more time together.

Now I don't know about you, but somehow the prospect of turning off all the screens - and actually conversing – is a bit daunting for me. We've actually built this avoidance of other people into the workplace: We do our work at individual screens, and when we gather for meetings, we expect to see a screen – either literally or sometimes even reading a printout of a PowerPoint. (And – lucky us - when they get boring or political or generally unproductive, we can gaze down at our Blackberries and actually get something done!)

Modern family dynamics aren't that far from work. As the Journal pointed out, the family that tried the tech time-out was so addicted to their gadgets, that when they sat together they had literally nothing to say. I routinely see teenagers sitting in the pizza place with their parents, but not there – texting, texting away.

It was funny, on our way home from vacation over the holidays, the woman sitting next to me on the plane told me she specifically booked up just to get away from her eight brothers and sisters. "Best vacation I ever had," she crowed happily.

And yet I know other people who absolutely, positively love people. They similarly absolutely hate the Internet. They don't like typing emails. They don't get mobile apps at all. They think texting is stupid. These are also generally the people who actually read paper books, cover to cover.

I think the last time I really read a book was maybe two months ago. I mean, I'll scan the things, but these days who has time? Most of the time, frankly, there is one core idea that is repeated endlessly.

We can analyze endlessly back and forth whether it's good or bad to be online (or on-screen) so much. The pertinent issue for your brand is, which type are you? Don't go by stereotypes about young people being heavy into tech and vice versa for Matures and Baby Boomers. Comfort with technology and being a virtual self can go any which way. After all, before there was the Internet there was radio (remember that?) and lots of people who were more comfortable behind a microphone in a studio than interacting face to face.

And there are people who simply belong on TV. They aren't real, it seems, unless they're in front of a camera. Too many to count. As we know, average people aren't drawn to reality TV.

You've got to know who you are. We ran into Matthew Lesko in the bookstore the other day. If you don't remember who he is, you probably remember what he does: He's the guy who tells you how to get "free money from the government." Lesko is an unbelievable personal brand – larger than life. He actually wears question marks on all his clothing – as if to say, "Ask me!" When I initially inquired from him as to who he was – I said, "Excuse me for bothering you, but are you on TV? You look familiar" – he literally jumped off the chair to shake hands with us. Introduced himself, posed for a photo, gave us his business card, everything. Even in the photo he was larger than life.

But then he went back to reading or whatever he was doing. And he didn't want to chat face to face. It was understood: I am a TV brand. I exist on THAT screen.

The key to successful branding – and successful personal branding, as an extension of that – is to know who you are, what you do well, and then deliver that consistently in a way that is pertinent to your audience. If you are more comfortable online, fine. Face-to-face, good too. Neither one is "better" than the other. Focus on which communication form suits you best, and then pursue a strategy to connect with others, who appreciate it, in that way. For in business, as in life, relationships are what keep us healthy—and financially solvent.

The Fastest, Easiest Way To A Successful Personal Brand

5 Personal Branding Mistakes You're Probably Ignoring

And now it's time for Family Feud:

1. Scuffed up shoes

2. Boring bag or briefcase (or a Jansport backpack!!!)

3. Puffy coat

4. Overdone, not-done, or chipped-up nails

5. Eye mishaps and messups (shmeary makeup at 3 p.m., overgrown brows, etc.)

Now you don't need an excuse to fix yourself up - it's an investment in your brand.

Get thee to the mall!

10 Ways to Reinvent Your Personal Brand

1. Attitude: Change your mindset. It's about learning, not perfection, and you are a dedicated lifelong student.

2. Confidence: You are no better or worse than anybody else out there. Value what you bring to the table.

3. Wardrobe: Whatever style of clothing you wear, wear it with intention. People notice your clothes first. And don't forget the shoes.

4. Training: These days, education is available freely, and a lot of it is actually free. Take advantage of it. 

5. Social networking: Find websites that reflect your interest and participate in the community. You don't have to be an expert to join the conversation.

6. Profile photo: Make sure your face is visible. Some people tend to crowd the thumbnail image to the point where they're not even visible.

7. LinkedIn: Must be there.

8. Blog: Whether anybody reads it or not, you must write. If nothing else, it will help you learn your subject matter and polish your communication skills as well. (Same goes for Twitter: Provide useful information on an ongoing basis.)

9. Volunteering: Somewhere out there is a person or organization who will "hire" you to do what you're interested in. By volunteering, you can learn new skills and be helpful at the same time. 

10. Labeling: The world is changing and your brand must change too. Make sure to describe yourself on your public profiles in the way that you want to be known. It's OK to change the label every year or two - this is simply a reflection of changing times. Think in terms of what will be relevant over the next six months to one year, and don't get stuck on the label you acquired in college, graduate school, or even in your early jobs. 

Good luck!

Ricky Gervais, the Golden Globes and Fabulous "Brand Britain"

So Ricky Gervais got pulled off the stage at the Golden Globe Awards because his humor was too biting. Give me a break.

Americans love British humor and we also can't get enough of smart, direct British entertainers who verge on the rude:

* Look at American Idol without Simon Cowell. I mean, Aerosmith??? What were they thinking?

* Piers Morgan is, without any effort it seems, stepping in where Larry King has stepped out. He and Sharon Osbourne (Brits Brits Brits) took America's Got Talent from a cheesy, kitschy show to a real talent competition that in many ways was actually better than Idol.

* "SuperNanny" (whoever she is) "invaded" the U.S. and showed us how discipline of a bratty 5 year old AND his parents is done. On that episode where she had the kid stay in bed, by himself, all night even though he woke up the parents like 72 times, I wanted to stand up and cheer.

I was watching the actors in the audience alternately laugh and squirm at the jokes and I thought the whole thing made for amazing TV. So instead of castigating him and apologizing, Hollywood needs to get a life and adopt some of the qualities of Brand Britain when it comes to entertainment. Maybe then we wouldn't need to rely on importing their ideas for our own shows (i.e., The Office, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and tons more), and could come up with some prime-time options worth watching.

All of this matters, and not just because there's nothing to watch on TV since "24" ended its run. The U.S. has done plenty well generating many powerhouse brands, especially in entertainment as in every other field. But where we seem to be challenged right now is in the area of innovation and taking risks. This is hurting every industry that counts on brainpower. In the realm of celebrity-land, perhaps there is so much money at stake that there is a fear of doing anything really different and chancy. But Miss America pageants, high-tech special effects, and fast car chases are a good substitute for actual narrative with actual characters we care about. (And speaking of celebrities, if I see one more celebration of Angelina Jolie, that homewrecker, I am really, really going to throw up.)

In politics, it's good to stay in the middle. But in entertainment, Hollywood needs to go further toward the edge.

Watching a Lady in the Bookstore, Who Was Watching Her Husband Read

With Super Bowl 2011 approaching, AdAge highlights the question on everyone's mind: "Could a Super Bowl Spot Make Us Love Our Government More?" (Some prominent ad execs' reflections on this subject will appear in Harper's Magazine in the issue forthcoming January 20th).


OK, obviously this is not the question on everyone's mind. But for marketers this is the equivalent of a logical puzzle. Can a single brilliant spot take the government from Scrooge to Santa Claus?


As a public servant myself I have a few insights into this subject that may be helpful. (Speaking only for myself and not astro-turfing, I promise.)


* * *


Consider this story. It is just too good not to share. And it will get us back to the point, eventually.


In the coffee shop where I'm writing this, an elderly woman and her husband are sharing a table with me.


She walks away to get a drink and comes back with two Izze sparkling sodas. The cans are skinny and colorful and have images of flowers on them. She tells her husband, "Try this, you will love it." She puts the straw in the can.


Husband takes a sip and says, "Uch, you drink it."


Now, he is reading while she sits patiently and actually watches him read. She continues to sip her Izze, completely relaxed.


Did they make Izze specifically to appeal to women who go to bookstores and watch their husbands read?


She is eyeing the second Izze.


* * *


So how to rebrand government? Another story.


As a government employee, I recently spent some time in a mandatory training class. You may think that as someone who likes to read and write, I would completely enjoy training time.


Actually – no. I am not really a sit-in-the-classroom type. I tend to squirm in the seat. I have no idea how I made it through twenty years of formal schooling. It's actually amazing that I can sit at a desk.


Plus it was not the most fascinating of subjects. Honestly, if it isn't branding or social media – MEGO (my eyes glaze over).


The teacher however was outstanding. A retired government employee who had come back to the workforce to teach this particular subject. And if I were going to produce a Super Bowl spot to promote faith in the government, I would put him up there.


This teacher represented everything that the government actually is. In a good way:


·         Not just competent, but excellent – highly qualified and intelligent

·         Extensive institutional knowledge – been there, done that and then some

·         Humble and unassuming – no ego about being the "top dog"

·         Sense of humor

·         Human in terms of treating the students fairly, allowing for the weather, etc.

·         Family-oriented – talked about his wife, pets, hobbies - a sense of work/life balance

·         Most importantly, had his feet on the ground – explained how to work with this subject in the real world, given political and cultural realities


Of course nobody is perfect. The subject matter was dry and he followed the rules, teaching it in the dry way they had handed it to him. But in a way that also shows a certain level of maturity. In a mammoth bureaucracy, it is not realistic to expect everyone to be "change agents," breaking paradigms and performing radical acts of transformation in defiance of the rules that keep things running smoothly.


I totally disagree with the concept of creating an advertisement to "rebrand government." It really is so much more than that. Primarily, I think, it's about aligning the audience's perceptions of the government with the reality of the government. Admitting what is, setting a target for what should be, providing a plausible and engaging strategy as to how we will get there. And engaging actual employees as passionate brand advocates along the way. (Forgive this intrusion from the world of IT, but in the field of enterprise architecture they call this a baseline, target, and transition plan.)


Nevertheless, just in case there is some attempt to create such a spot, I would suggest that an individual like this be recruited as a spokesperson. I wouldn't even give him a script. Just give a teenager a handheld camera and have the young person conduct a brief interview. Let the government employee say, in his or her own words, what it's really like to work for the government. (Better get a retiree to do this – someone with no skin in the game, who is just happy to help out if they can.)


My thinking is, maybe if people could see what type of people the government actually hires, they might – if not change their minds – open their minds and shift their thinking about government a bit. They might see that for the most part we are just a bunch of people doing the best we can with the resources we have. Working within a system that is built to accommodate an almost impossibly high level of standards to ensure everyone's integrity.


In the end, the government is not something that was imposed upon us. It is something that we have created ourselves. In a sense, we are all married to it. It is up to us whether we will watch other people read in the bookstore, or whether we will pick up a book ourselves. And use what we have learned to support what is good, change what's not working, and help prepare our nation for the incredible changes that are undoubtedly awaiting us as we journey even further into the 21st century.

The 3 Things A Woman Should Never Wear To Work

Women have always suffered for fashion. But too often they actually inflict the damage on themselves. If you care about your career, do not wear any of these stylish items to work.


Unless you don't need the job.

1. Odd ponytail formations

2. Flip-flops and all variations thereof

(You're not out shopping in London on a Sunday.)

3. Uneven cardigan

No matter how well you carry it off, a style like this says "I'm a bit uneven myself."

These days you can get away with a lot when it comes to fashion at work. But styles like this push the envelope a bit too far. Top executives do not dress this way!