Reputation is a company's most important intangible commercial asset. It is a function of everything that a company does.
You cannot calculate a simple relationship along the lines of ‘a reputation of x will underpin sales by y’, but a strong reputation relative to competitors will positively influence a company’s likelihood to be given the benefit of doubt in the face of adversity. A strong reputation also aids positive differentiation - creating clear positive associations that set a company apart from its competitors.
So, recognising its importance to their business, how do companies go about communicating what they stand for?
There is the type of campaign, to be found for example on rolling news channels, in which company credentials are presented to support the desired perceptions, (or challenge undesired ones) - say, oil companies presenting their activities in renewable energy sources.
There are through-the-line campaigns designed to capture the current, social media-fuelled trend for active participation. For example, supermarket voucher collection schemes, in which TV, online and in-store communication is perhaps less significant than getting schools on board as advocates.
There is sponsorship – where the sponsored property is carefully selected for its capacity to fit the desired brand and reputation objectives. Consider the financial services branding on the so-called "Boris Bikes", auspiciously linked to the colour coding of the cycle lanes on which the bikes get used.
These are just a few examples. Whilst the potential means of communication are numerous, the approach you can take to measuring its effectiveness is straightforward. When we assess marketing communications with more "conventional" objectives, we do so using a simple framework known as "Recall and Response". This can easily be adapted for Reputation-led campaigns.
Recall means whether the activity is remembered, and linked to the appropriate brand. For example, is "Active Kids" remembered more than "Computers for Schools", and is each scheme linked to the appropriate retailer?
Response is, simply, assessing whether the communications make the difference which they are designed to achieve. For reputation campaigns we look beyond typical measures of purchase intent, to the fundamental base measure of "Trust", and whatever positive associations are being used to support this, (sustainability, social responsibility, etc.)
Within this framework, it is essential to follow good practice for campaign evaluation. For example, it is not realistic to expect people to state how effective marketing communications have been – particularly when the objectives are the less tangible ones that surround reputation. Instead, use a design which derives campaign impact through analysis.
It is equally unrealistic to expect people to split out how they were impacted by the TV, relative to word of mouth or other media, or how well the different elements built upon each other. Again, research should seek to derive the impact of multiple touchpoints – in isolation or combination.
Increasingly, communications seek to make us feel rather than make us think. Particularly, where a company’s reputation is underpinned by emotional associations. It is, therefore, essential to measure emotional as well as rational impact. Interactive survey techniques and sophisticated data analysis approaches make this possible.
It’s important to measure reputation impact amongst appropriate people. We can speak to a variety of ‘stakeholders’ - from consumers via policy makers and NGOs to employees - who have relevant views, and the capacity to influence, a company’s reputation.
It’s also important to incorporate all available response measures. For example, monitoring the web for "buzz" relevant to a campaign’s objectives is a useful element of a study assessing the impact of a Reputation campaign. As well as tracking positive buzz, such "Social Listening" allows us to monitor the negative impact of those instances how a company or its representatives behave undermines the image it is trying to project – the banks that close branches whilst communicating their accessibility, or the airlines that trumpet their friendliness whilst their staff ridicule passengers on social media.
This brings us to our final point – the most effective way of building reputation is to integrate ‘what you stand for’ into every aspect of the business, so that the way ‘everyone’ works resonates your company values. ‘What we are all about’ should cascade down from the top, resonating in every department.
Results will be reflected in research of a company’s relative strength: its competitive position, the positives for which a company is known and the weaknesses that it needs to address. Such research can be used at the highest levels within an organisation, with ‘trust’ being terminology that is understood and of interest at Board level.
Keith Glasspoole is the deputy chief operating officer and Helen Lamb is an associate director of Ipsos MORI