Branding and reputation are integrally related. The one is built on the other. And when your organization operates in an "at risk" way for an extended period of time, you can be sure that both will falter.
How can you prevent such a crisis from occurring? Thinking from a branding point of view, you want to make sure that your organization has someone in charge of constantly keeping watch over its reputation.
UPS teaches us this principle neatly in its new television commercial. It states:
"Everything your customer sees tells a story."
As a private individual, you've lived this a thousand times. When you argue, you close the door and make sure nobody else is around. For your story is told not by you, but by the people who witness you, in your orbit.
We all know this and yet somehow, incomprehensibly, it appears that many businesses do not operate by this principle. Their actions speak louder than their words, and as a result the customer experience is miserable. For example:
- They Tweet at the customer about the latest "improvements," "happenings" and "updates," but don't offer clear, well-researched answers to the customer's most frequently asked questions.
- They do not offer a consistent promise or experience, so that the customer feels jittery and anxious about whether it will be good or bad to deal with them that day. The store, or website, is difficult to navigate. The product quality is uneven. Their service level seems to be excellent one day and terrible the next.
- They talk about how important people are, how people are "everything" to them, but they overwork and underpay employees, sell inferior products or services, and they don't refund a dissatisfied customer's money easily.
- They have a CEO, a CFO, a COO and CIO and maybe a CMO - but there is no Chief Brand Officer in charge of the overall brand image and customer experience.
Don't ask your executives that question. Ask the people who work for and with you. Ask the people who interact with you. Ask your customers. (Or just observe them and record what you see.)
Notice as you do this that there is no neat line between the different types of "stakeholders" you serve. In a typical wheel chart showing such a schema, these groups are neatly divided from one another--e.g. customer, media, employee, etc.
Rather, your stakeholders (also known as "audience segments") tend to cross over from one category into another. Today's customer is tomorrow's employee. That employee may leave the company and be a partner of some kind in the future.
Or maybe they will be a competitor. What weaknesses might they use against you?
People talk, and when they talk it's often about the "little things." You therefore want to make sure that you control the image of your organization -- preferably by doing the right thing! -- at all times.
But since we live in the real world, and people don't always do the right thing it is important to remedy risky situations as soon as they crop up.
This is why every organization should have an Office of Enterprise Risk.
"Risk" from a branding standpoint -- stated in its most minimal terms -- is anything about the functioning of your business that, left unchecked, has the potential to harm your reputation.
As you do this, it's important to avoid a common misconception. Because often people think that having a good image literally means telling a positive story, hiring employees who will accept unquestioningly everything you say, etc. etc. and so on.
Nothing could be further than the truth.
Having a good image means understanding from the get-go that it is literally impossible to have a good image unless you are constantly on guard for, and correcting, the problems that arise in the normal course of business.
To establish an Office of Enterprise Risk:
- Designate someone to serve as your Chief of Reputation Risk. This is not the Chief Brand Officer, but rather an individual who heads up an Office of Enterprise Risk. "Enterprise risk" includes cybersecurity, product quality, accounting best practices, physical facility hazard management, and so on.
- Explicitly empower employees to tell you when something is wrong.
- Offer a real way that employees, customers or other stakeholders can report problems anonymously.
- Establish a reputation council, comprised of the risk officers heading up each unique type of organizational risk. It should convene regularly and investigate and responds to the reports that come in -- referring the issue to the appropriate party when necessary (e.g., sometimes reports involve the need for legal counsel). At times it might be necessary to hire an outside entity to conduct the investigation.
- Report out regularly, and publicly, on the activities of the reputation watch-guard and council, including a quantitative report at the end of the year that describes the number and types of incidents reported and actions taken.
Think about it from a strategic point of view. Proactively managing your reputation is a smart investment. Rather than waiting for a crisis to blow up in your face -- an expensive, chaotic proposition that will inevitably take you away from your core business -- invest in preventive maintenance in advance.
Having an Office of Enterprise Risk supports your reputation, and your brand, by engaging trained professionals to monitor and mitigate the most common presenting risks. When they work together, in concert with your Chief Branding Officer, you can communicate in a credible and consistent way about unavoidable issues.
Think about risk -- in advance -- then mitigate it. Don't live in fear of surprises.
That makes you a company people trust, and ultimately that they vastly prefer to do business with.
All opinions my own. Cover photo by Ben Stephenson via Flickr (Creative Commons). Color wheel image by Pete Linforth via Pixabay (Public Domain).