It’s the Reputation (not the Brand), stupid!

Now that spin doctor and political series are all the rage on the platforms (I like the French Les Hommes de l’ombre the most), I am going to paraphrase the great James Carville, who invented for Bill Clinton in the November 1992 presidential campaign the famous phrase that went round the world:

It’s the economy, stupid!

Reputational relevance _ Clinton
Watch my lips. It’s the economy, stupid…

They knocked out Bush senior, who had just won the first Gulf War against Hussein the year before, defeated the USSR in the Cold War two years earlier, had a 90% popularity rating never seen before, but had failed to realise something very important that worried the average American more than all the wars combined: the economy was doing badly.

The country had the highest unemployment rate in decades (7.7%), public debt was soaring (51% of GDP) and inflation was rising steadily (4.4%). However, his campaign slogan was: Stand by the president! And his election poster: a picture of him as Uncle Sam in World War II saying: I want you for the US Army!

The medium mediates, the context contextualises

Something similar may happen in the regional elections to be held this Sunday in Castilla y León. Not connecting with the environment, with the current context, with what is really happening in the street, with people’s daily lives, with their immediate future expectations, is the biggest mistake that any brand (political or electoral, corporate or commercial) can make.

There are glaring examples of disengagement between corporate brand and social expectations (Kodak, Nokia, Blockbuster, Yahoo, Toys R Us, Blackberry, El Corte Inglés, Terra, Compaq, Banesto…). And also great examples of the opposite, in some cases reborn from error (Apple, Mercadona, Starbucks, Microsoft, Converse, IBM, Seat, Google, Telepizza, Lego…).

More Reputation and Less Branding

Why is that? Because the key is no longer the Brand as it was before the digital world. Until 20 years ago, what mattered was what you said about yourself. Just ask the restaurants, hotels and shops that experienced this phenomenon. Now the most important thing is no longer just what you project, it is what people perceive and say about you: Reputation.

Moreover, promises that are not kept, that do not materialise and are quickly seen to be kept, penalise. The voices that count now are third party reviews (disintermediation in opinion creation as well) and those voices (users, influencers, etc.) are more concerned with results and in the short term. Not tomorrow, not the day after. Today, here and now. That´s why:

  • Reputation generates more empathy than the brand.
  • Reputation builds better relationships than branding.
  • Reputation speaks more truth than Brand

More reputation-centric companies

Companies do not need to be more customer-centric, they need to be, above all, more reputation-centric. Because by doing so, they will connect with the customer and their real needs, but also with society and its current problems. And because by doing so, they will respond better to the service that their customers expect, but also with the ethical conduct that society expects.

And your CEOs, what do they expect from the Communications and Marketing Departments? So collaboration and alienation, with a much more focused approach on Reputation, more efforts and developments in Digital communication and a more fluid relationship with the Business areas, such as Sales, Product or Service. In other words, a more dynamic and fruitful co-existence.

3 examples of how Reputation eats up Brand

Drucker said that Culture had eaten Strategy. The same applies to Reputation and Brand. A snack and a good one, with Nocilla. If brands used to be built around values and through products, in addition to traditional advertising, today they are built around purpose and through service, in addition to digital communication.

There are three great examples, from three different sectors (banking, food and technology), which I would like to analyse briefly, in order to conclude and demonstrate how Reputation has stolen a march on Brand in the 21st century strategy game:

  1. Bankia: from ‘Become a banker’ and the black cards (ranked below 100 in Merco in 2011) to ‘Let’s start with principles’ and the merger with Caixabank (ranked 47th in Merco in 2019 and in the top 10 of the sector).
  2. Unilever: from Axe’s ‘Makes all women flock’ (desire and pleasure, 1,600 brands) to Dove’s ‘Real beauty from real care’ (purpose and sustainability, 75% of the business comes from 28 purpose brands and turnover 25% higher than 15 years ago).
  3. Apple: from ‘Your life in your pocket. Life is Easier’ iPhone, novelty and ease (in 2007, being sales leader at its launch) to ‘Privacy. That’s iPhone’, privacy and security (in 2019, returning to leadership in 2020 by dethroning Samsung).

So, from now on, don’t forget: It’s the Reputation (not the Brand), stupid!

Ricardo Gómez Díez

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