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.