"Reputation Warfare," in the December 2010 Harvard Business Review, gives professional service marketers a chance to discuss the meaning behind the words "reputation" and "brand." Are they the same, different -- or do they overlap?
I think they overlap. But some seasoned marketers believe you cannot separate a firm's reputation from its brand. (Take a look at Arthur Andersen, they say. Its reputation -- and brand -- were destroyed once revelations about its Enron business practices came to light.)
Others believe a firm's brand is not the same as its reputation. They argue that "reputation," meaning the marketplace's confidence in your firm's ethics, honesty, trustworthiness, and quality services, is the core bedrock of any professional firm's ability to do business. These principles sit "below" the brand, which is about a set of attributes and characteristics which must be unique to each professional firm.
To me, these variable opinions are another indication of the increasing maturation of the professional services arena. And it may take a threat, as "Reputation Warfare" author Leslie Gaines-Ross says, in the form of "small-scale antagonists: dissatisfied customers, disgruntled employees—virtually anyone with a personal computer and an ax to grind" to force professional service firms to grow in sophistication about exactly where reputation ends and brand begins.
To see the difference, let's consider Miller Lite's classic brand promise: "tastes great, less filling." Are those promises exactly the same as honesty, ethics, and high-quality beer production processes? I say "No."
Of course, people do want to rely on the ethics and quality production that results in "tastes great, less filling." But consumers do not instantly question the company's production processes or reputation when they distinguish "tastes great, less filling" from their other beer choices. "Tastes great, less filling" are attributes that separate it from its rivals. That's what a good brand strategy must do, even for professional service firms.
Professional service marketers, ask yourselves: are your firm's brand attributes distinct and separate enough from your firm's bedrock business principles of trustworthiness, honesty and quality?
If not, watch out. You may be in the same boat as Arthur Andersen, whose brand couldn't stand a significant hit to its reputation. Right now, you should take a hard look at your brand strategy. Get started today to build greater uniqueness into your firm's brand attributes.