Q&A: What’s Brand Got to Do With It?

The link that I want to explore today is between brand and reputation. In the past six months, our Reputation Leadership Network (RLN) members have been asking about the relationship between brand and reputation. Our RLN members are senior communications executives at major corporations, such as P&G, Hershey’s and Lowe’s, who engage with their peers through executive workshops and want to measure their business performance with concrete metrics. So, why are they asking about the connection between brand and reputation? That’s because better managing the corporate brand can help companies improve their reputations. Chief Communications Officers (CCOs) have typically left branding to the Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs), but reputation and brand have become increasingly intertwined and the role of the CCO has expanded beyond issues management.

My colleagues, Charles Fombrun and Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, will share their thoughts about corporate reputation and brand with us today. Charles is the founder of Reputation Institute and the creator of our RepTrak® model and the new “Extended RepTrak®.” The Extended RepTrak® incorporates brand into our RepTrak® model, which is the gold standard for reputation measurement. Stephen is our branding guru and VP of strategy consulting. Let’s uncover together what brand has to do with reputation. And let us know your thoughts, too.

Jamie Bedard: Most people think of reputation and brand as overlapping concepts. What is the difference between corporate reputation and corporate brand?
Stephen Hahn-Griffiths: The corporate brand is born out of a strategic tension that is shaped by what the organization is, says, and does. By contrast, reputation, is the outcome of how stakeholders perceive the corporation based on their needs and expectations. In this way, reputation is an evaluation of the corporate brand from the viewpoint of the beholder.

Jamie Bedard: Good corporate brands have a strong purpose. How do companies know if they have a powerful purpose that is aligned with their corporate reputation?
Stephen Hahn-Griffiths: Purpose is at the heart of why stakeholders love an enterprise. The corporate brand purpose underscores what defines and drives an enterprise – and captures why it exists.
Charles Fombrun: A powerful corporate brand purpose is one that meets the requirements of the following 8-point checklist:

  1. Embodies the vision and mission
  2. Imbues the enterprise legacy
  3. Central to core competencies
  4. Aligns with organizational identity
  5. Distinctiveness versus competition
  6. Identifies with stakeholder expectations
  7. Inspires universal engagement
  8. Drives metrics of enterprise success

Jamie Bedard: What are some examples of companies that have a strong corporate purpose and a strong reputation?
Stephen Hahn-Griffiths: Two examples of corporate brands that have a strong purpose and strong reputation are Samsung and Whole Foods Market.

Samsung has made major gains in reputation and is #28 on the US RepTrak® rankings. Samsung’s purpose is to accelerate human progress. This purpose is central to the products that Samsung manufactures, and as a premise, it universally connects with all stakeholders – from employees to consumers. This purpose aligns with Samsung’s innovation and employee engagement agenda, and guides its decision-making around governance and citizenship.

Whole Foods Market’s purpose is to nourish the world with whole foods. Whole Foods Market has a strong reputation at #21 on the US RepTrak® rankings. Its purpose translates to an outward brand expression of being “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store.” This mantra emanates from the leadership of the company through the actions of John Mackey and Walter Robb, co-CEOs, who live by the standards of “conscious capitalism.” Guided by a deep sense of purpose, Mackey and Robb have built an enterprise with a strong reputation that delivers on its promise.

Jamie Bedard: Should a company spend more time and resources on individual brand reputation or the company reputation?
Charles Fombrun: Companies should spend time on both. There is a symbiotic relationship between the corporate (parent) brand and individual (sibling) brands. A strong corporate brand can increase enterprise value, mitigate reputation risk, and strengthen license to operate. And strong sibling brands can serve to enhance the products/services credentials of the organization, and more directly enhance reputation on the merits of innovation.
Stephen Hahn-Griffiths: By more strongly prioritizing and carefully managing the reputation of the corporate brand, a company can enhance its overall reputation while also elevating perceptions of the individual sibling brands it manufactures, supports, and sells. It would mean that, by definition, an enhanced corporate reputation can increase the likelihood that stakeholders will buy individual brands from the company and (truly, madly, deeply) buy into the corporate brand that stands behind company.