Reputation building in an upside down world

August 18, 2014

Reputation building in an upside down world

Building reputation in this upside down world is very much on my mind these days. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the time has surely come to think about how reputations get built when no one is paying attention or remembers anything beyond headlines or wrongdoing. Plus I have to ask myself if the world really wants to remember anything when it seems to be catching on fire and exploding all the time. Everyone seems so bone weary or as a shopkeeper told me yesterday, “It’s the dog days of August, what do you expect?”  

Luckily I found this article in Wired which gave me something to think about  “Branding is About Creating Patterns, Not Repeating Messages,” written by Marc Shillum of Method. His smart thoughts on branding apply well to those trying to build reputations caught in the vortex of news, information, misinformation, hearsay and rumors. Here are three thoughts that I pulled out from his article for my blog: 

  • “The media brands inhabit is iterative, with no beginning, no end, and little permanency. In that context, adherence to a big idea and endless repetition of centralized, fixed rules can make a brand seem unresponsive and out of step with its audience.”  Like brands, reputations need to be relevant and in step with external audiences and the marketplace. Reputations have to be continuously evolving (there is no permanency anymore) and not just stuck on one big idea or three message points that are meant to last for 12 to 18 months without adaptation. I’ve always thought that incremental change adds more to reputation than monumental change. The latter is too hard to absorb and builds distrust and dissonance with what we thought was the truth. Smaller ideas that go step-wise into the marketplace are the best way to build and cultivate reputation. 
  • “Through this iterative interaction, the brand becomes a constantly shifting relationship between the company and its customers. Through the interface, the customer assumes the right to some control, ownership, and authorship of the brand.”  This idea is power-packed. Company reputation, like the brand he refers to, has to constantly shift as its customers shift. Stakeholders have the control and are now the genuine authors of reputation. Afterall, reputation is how you are perceived by your stakeholders, not what you dictate. It is a back-and-forth negotiation which has to find a common core at the center. 
  • “To succeed in a more agile world, a brand needs to think less about defining a fixed identity and more about creating coherent and flexible patterns.”  I agree. Reputation is built on patterns that resonate and clarify and re-calibrate our thinking. Patterns bring things to life because they are nuanced and interesting. For example, it’s been helpful to watch IBM’s big idea surrounding Smarter Planet build its patterns over the years. If you go back in time, it started out as Solutions for a Smaller Planet and then turned to Decade of Smart and Smarter Planet and onto Smarter Cities and much more. All of these central themes have formed patterns of ways to think about IBM and connect them with solving the world’s largest problems. I can barely think of IBM without seeing the arresting visual smarter planet icon and all the associated ones that have accumulated over the years. It forms a quilt of thoughts in my mind that add up to one big idea that keeps me interested, delighted and wanting to learn more. 

All good ideas for thinking about reputation today. 




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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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