When to say that "brand is reputation" and when not to

When I was a brand consultant, we used to tell our clients that brand is the same thing as reputation. Primarily, it was a way to get them comfortable with the idea of assessing where they stood in the eyes of their stakeholders (you can't do a brand analysis without understanding what image people have of the organization). And frequently this strategy worked: After all, who does not want to know what others think of them--what their reputation is? And in fact, brand does share some things in common with reputation, most importantly that both result from the perception of the organization by its stakeholders. In other words, when you ask the question "what do other people think of us?" the answer you get back could either be your brand or your reputation.

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).