Tony Lorenz, managing director, Europe, Latitude Agency
Brand, reputation or trust? It’s an oft-asked question, but, says Latitude’s managing director, Europe, Tony Lorenz, it’s met with a different answer than it was in his early brand days.
When I started out as a young brand manager, 25 years ago, the notion of branding was somewhat different to the powerful role of brand as we know it today, in our globally connected, social sharing world.
Back in 1990 it was more about the physical application of brand identity, or how to use a logo in marketing and brand related communications, from literature to advertising or retail store communication. This physical application tended to be externally-focused customer touch points and the main internal stakeholders were the marketing, product development and sales teams. Any mention within an organisation of the word brand and the typical reaction was usually ‘oh that’s the responsibility of the marketing team’. Any sense of brand or branding tended to be seen as a subset of marketing. The dynamics of brand were much narrower, more focused on tangible products and on transactional activity with customers. An organisation’s customers gave feedback either by telephone or through the Royal Mail.
The landscape 25 years on could not be more seismically different. Brand has become the central all-pervading asset of a business. It has gone beyond the physical and into the ideological, where a singular simple unifying idea sits at the core of a whole organisation and its purpose. Every decision, commercial activity, communication and behaviour is driven by this idea. The brand defines the whole culture and DNA of an organisation and every tangible and intangible interaction. Everyone within the organisation has a stake in the brand (not just marketing and sales) and is a brand ambassador, their behaviour shaped by living the core brand principle across a multiplicity of touch points. Be it an IT engineer, someone in HR or at the front of house: they are all responsible for delivering the brand’s reputation. The whole organisation is involved in delivering the brand experience. Successful brands work from the inside out. When we pause for a moment to think of brands such as Pret a Manger, Nike or Google we imagine they have strong definitive internal cultures to deliver their distinctive brand experiences. The brand culture of an organization creates a sense of belonging and it is these engaged people behind the brand that really make the difference. This human, emotive and experiential dimension is now fundamental to developing successful brands.
But the real paradigm shift in the way brands work today is the empowerment and voice of audiences and customers through socially sharing and exchanging their views in near-real time. The prolific rise and ubiquity of the digital technology in the connected global landscape mean brands are instantly accessible via the internet and the advent of social media has accelerated the way on which we communicate and proliferate views. There is now ultra-accessibility to organisations and consumers have a very powerful voice. They can make or break a brand’s reputation; not just in hours, but in minutes.
This accessibility and powerful weight of social communities mean reputation isn’t just online, it’s potentially only minutes from being ‘on the line’. Never more has this underlined the need for behaviours and attitudes of organisations to be driven by their brand principles to act ethically, responsibly, transparently, humanely and above all in a customer-focused fashion that is consistent in brand message. We are spoilt for choice to cite examples such as HSBC, Tesco and Malaysian Airlines in sectors as diverse as banking, supermarkets, airlines and automobiles;. In some cases the actions of one person can adversely affect the organisation’s reputation overnight as in the case of Co-op Bank. So often we see the brand reputation wrapped in the organization’s CEO / leader as with Tim Cook, Larry Page or Jeff Bezos. They are all super brand ambassadors for their organisations and highly respected by their staff. Most recently we saw with Dolce & Gabbana the reaction led by Sir Elton John and Victoria Beckham among others via social media to the ‘synthetic’ IVF babies comment. What effect this has on the brand remains to be seen, but it has been tarnished in the short term.
So what does come first; brand or reputation? I think it is symbiotic. Reputations build brands (think Barcelona FC) and brands build reputations (think Emirates Airlines).
It’s the organization’s staff, stories, messages, experiences and sensitivity to customers that builds reputation. With brand at the heart. And ultimately trust.
Tony Lorenz at Latitude is moderating a panel discussion on reputation at the Transform conference. Speakers on the discussion are: Rose Liendl, lead brand strategy manager, Three and Adrian Walcott, general manager central marketing, Eurostar . To see more about the conference click here.