With almost three billion people registered on social media channels, news spreads quickly and companies have to adapt to this reality, making sure that any damaging content for their brand is managed as swiftly as possible. Many companies monitor their reputation daily, checking social channels constantly to ensure that they’re on top of any developing stories.
By Romanita Oprea
According to the Institute for PR, from an organisation’s perspective, reputation is an intangible asset that allows the company to better manage the needs and expectations of various stakeholders, creating differentiation and barriers vis-à-vis its competitors. From the stakeholders’ perspective, reputation is the intellectual, emotional, and behavioural response as to whether or not the communications and actions of an organisation resonate with their needs and interests.
Corporate reputation accounts for 35.3 percent of the market cap of the world’s 15 leading equity market indices, a figure that is even higher for healthcare companies, at 39 percent of market cap. According to PR Week, due to today’s social and digital reality, companies must demonstrate relevance that’s based on their purpose and ability to connect to audiences on the things that matter to them.
So how hard is it to really build a brand reputation and how long does it take? Firstly, Catrinel Burghelea, independent communications strategist, would challenge the term “reputation”, which she believes to have been excessively used in PR and communications in recent years. More than placing perception at the core of our work, we should refer to relationships and trust when thinking about our mission as communicators. This sets a different framework for practicing and assessing this profession, granting a more strategic role to communicators.
“Reputation is a consequence of the relationships one builds with stakeholders. Secondly, you cannot simply build a reputation through communication. We too often expect communication professionals to deliver on reputation just as you would expect somebody to trust you simply because you told them you were trustworthy. Common sense says it doesn’t work this way. Going back to reputation, it is a result of the way an organisation does business, from its products and services to the way it treats customers, partners, employees, and so on. It relies strongly on good leadership and transparency,” Burghelea argues.
Raluca Mihalachioiu (main photo left),
managing partner of The Public Advisors, points out that reputation goes hand in hand with the business itself. Building reputation starts from the company’s first day and represents the value of the company, which is constantly changing. Therefore, the reputation strategy is as important as the business strategy and it’s embedded into all business stages. Moreover, reputation has tangible results. “There is a very strong correlation between reputation and the intent of purchase, recommendation, operational profit or the attribute of preferred employer. In other words, if reputation rises, the sales and profit of a company also increase. Which CEO wouldn’t be happy to mathematically know how to increase shareholder value?”
In turn, Sorana Savu, managing partner at Premium PR, says that a brand’s reputation is just like a person’s reputation. If you have strong values and principles and you are prepared to uphold, observe, and defend them with every chance you get, it’s not that difficult. If you are just trying to stick around certain values and hope something brushes off on you or if you abuse and misuse them and you’re ready to trade them off for some easy gains every time you see an opportunity, it’s not that easy. “Reputation is not a snapshot. Fame is a snapshot. Reputation is stronger, more meaningful, and deeper; it’s something you work for and protect your entire life – whether you’re a brand or a person,” Savu explains.
According to Bogdan Tomoiaga, executive director at Graffiti PR, brand trust and reputation are things you build over years of great and assiduous work. And we have some examples: from the Gods of Ancient Greece to the new Gods of the Corporate World, trust and reputation have been things you build over long periods of time, by staying true to your beliefs, producing change, and being a good citizen.
“Think about a local situation: Romanians say that the German cars are the best. Was this something built over a couple of years? No. Was it based on the reliability of the product? Yes. Could it be lost easily? Hmm. Please look at the dieselgate situation and think about how it affected the reputation of German car brands. Are they still preferred by Romanian consumers?” he asks.
Therefore, like a business, reputation is not built overnight. It’s a long process which, in The Public Advisors representatives’ point of view, could take from 2 to 10 years. However, the ongoing effort will result in establishing long-term relationships with customers. According to a Nielsen survey, 59 percent of consumers prefer to buy new products from brands that are familiar to them and 21 percent say they had purchased a new product because it was from a brand they liked.
“Despite the fact that reputation is a lengthy process, there is no secret formula to point out the exact moment in time when you can stop working on it. A company should never stop building its reputation. ‘A brand is a story always being told,’ said Scott Bedbury (former Nike and Starbucks executive) and it’s as true today as it was when he said it. Trust and reputation take such a long time for a corporation to build, yet they can be lost or damaged seriously by a momentary event,” added Simona Dan (main photo right), managing partner of The Public Advisors.
Therefore, “reputation management refers not just to the rhetoric of an organisation, but also deals with products and services, business performance and practices, leadership and sustainability. From this perspective, a good reputation needs an organisation-wide approach and a coordinated effort from many areas of the business,” said Burghelea.
The first steps
In this context, knowing what the main steps should be and how to take those steps is very important for any company representative. Reputation is what others say about you when you are not in the room. This is why, when building its reputation, a company has to consider all the types of people who could be talking about it: employees, the management team, investors, clients, former clients, future clients, the community, the authorities.
“Step into the void, get out there, and join the conversation. Why? Because at a time of uncertainty, during a crisis when populist political leaders are trying to distract us with fake news, businesses must act without waiting for approval. It is time to take on leadership, even if it seems counterintuitive sometimes. Talk about sustainability, social problems like wages and child support, issues in working with the authorities, and ways to get out of the crisis,” said Tomoiaga.
“There is no single recipe and there are no specific ingredients that you can methodically add to a bowl and hope that at some point you’ll be able to pull a reputation cake out of the oven. Organisations, brands, and communities are so different that building a reputation will be like the man with 1,000 faces,” said Mihalachioiu.
But there is an instrument that can mathematically evaluate the reputation of companies and brands: RepMeterä is a reputation measurement tool that evaluates admiration and trust in a brand or company and is calculated based on scores for 7 attributes: familiarity, quality of services, management ethics, employer brand, financial strength, corporate social responsibility, and positive sentiment. The tool was developed by public relations company The Public Advisors and a research institute and it is defined by the stability of the research model and actionable results.
In terms of relevance and how it is measured, at the beginning of any campaign, The Public Advisors conduct a precise segmentation of the audience and of top channels for each audience segment. Of course, this does not guarantee relevant results, but they make sure to set the premises correctly. Then, at the end of the campaign, they obtain some quantitative indicators according to which they measure relevance: engagement – views, impressions, likes, shares, and comments, opportunities to see how often, on average, a person has come into contact with a certain message, tone of voice – how to talk about the subject of our campaign, whether positive, negative or neutral. But there are also some qualitative indicators that they take into account, such as: feedback from stakeholders, additional stories, word of mouth, etc.
According to Sorana Savu, relevance first and foremost requires knowing and proving that you know what planet you live on, as a brand. Which sometimes also means as a marketer. “With a focus on sales and the bottom line and on fluffy creative, constant innovation, and with chronic FOMO, brands tend to slip into narcissism and treat people as ‘consumers’, chasing them based on demographics and their account balance, forgetting about their hopes, dreams, moods, beliefs, and emotions. Or just ignoring them. Or replacing the real ones with some edulcorated versions that make a TVC more colourful or an ad happier,” commented Savu.
She points out that this is becoming painfully obvious in times of crisis, and particularly during a financial crisis, when the most important objective of a brand – to sell, sell, sell – clashes with the actual objectives of the people, which can be keeping their health, their money, their sanity, their family, their safety.
“In times of crisis, some brands find it difficult to stay relevant, because their audiences have a different agenda or because they think they are not part of the solution. In periods like the one we are currently experiencing, you can easily distinguish the organisations with good communication management, which have built strong relationships with stakeholders, from the ones who have not. The first ones were a few steps ahead of the others from the beginning. The latter faced difficulties: some of them put a stop to communication, others continued as if nothing had happened, while others were misaligned with their audiences and with reality and were either clichés or opportunistic,” Burghelea explains.
You cannot be agile and adaptive, as a crisis demands, if you do not have a strong foundation that is already built. In terms of relevance during a pandemic or any other major crisis, every communicator should ask themselves: what is the essence of my brand and what is its role in today’s context?
“Then, any company who is not doing that constantly should at least pause and look around. See what makes people move, what is important to THEM and how can IT be of service to them. Seduction and assertiveness, not to say aggressiveness, need to be replaced by empathy and common sense, which should guide all marketing and branding decisions. Tone it down, shut up and listen for a while, pick a cause and support it, fix an issue or become a voice for the righteous and the voiceless. And most importantly, do this for real, not hypocritically,” Sorana Savu added.
As the Edelman Trust Barometer found, trust in brands or companies rather than authorities is higher than ever. Business will have to lead now, and they will have to do it in the right way. Not only for profit or to their shareholders’ benefit, but for the greater good. “Leadership is key, and businesses needs to cooperate with government on ideas such as safety checks to ensure that a restaurant is clean, employees have been tested, and customers have their temperature taken at the door. Trust (53 percent) is second only to price (64 percent) when it comes to making purchasing decisions about a brand. Globally, more people are choosing brands based on trust, with 46 percent saying they trust most of the brands they buy or use (a 12-point increase over the last year),” explained the Graffiti PR representative.
Moreover, in order to be relevant, messages sent by brands need to be tailored to specific audiences. According to Simona Dan, tailoring a message has at least two meanings: speaking the same language as your stakeholders and being relevant for them. In order for the public to understand your brand/company, you have to speak their language. Everybody is assaulted by messages from all sides anyway, so they will surely be touched only by clear communication that can be perceived without effort. “This is why, to escape drowning in the sea of information, our brain makes a selection based on relevance: am I interested in this right now? Starting from these two criteria, we segment the audience and create messages for each category, so that we can increase the efficiency of any campaign,” Simona Dan concludes.
At the same time, as Bogdan Tomoiaga points out, brands also have a fundamental role as sources of quality information. There is so much distortion and inaccuracy on social media based on image impressionism and provocative commentary. “Brands reach consumers where they live, in real-time, to enable conversation. Marketing budgets should be used to educate and compel people to evolve, to help businesses survive, to support educators and medical staff in these difficult times,” he added.
To make the brand clearly understood by a range of audience segments or “bubbles” as we’ve been calling them lately, tailoring the messages is crucial, Sorana Savu confirms. However, as the Premium PR representative notes, the key here is to have a strong core, a key message that remains the same throughout and that properly represents the DNA of the brand, no matter how and with whom it is shared.