What Stage is Your Reputation? Be As You Wish to Appear


Often, I meet  someone who feels his or her company is misunderstood in a way that holds back progress.   Sometimes this is expressed as “I wish we could get everyone in one room and get them to see this organization (or me) as we really are.”  Well one good thing about reputation management as a discipline in the digital age is that you can do that, virtually.  But, there is a problem. The creation of public reputation is happening without much management, for most organizations.  The way others see you, and what they say about you, is the reality of “you” for “them.”  To borrow a phrase, reputation happens.   Another problem is that most organizations, and most individuals, have a pretty inaccurate view of how they are seen by others, so their efforts to communicate and build relationships are very inefficient.  The more pressure an organization or individual is under, publicly, the more his public reputation-building efforts tend to be inefficient.

To bring the reality of an organization’s values,  and the value it creates, into focus for all audiences there needs to be a simple framework, a basis for discussion and management internally.  Testing a reputation, and assigning one of four reputation stages, is a starting point. From that common view of reality, progress is easier to make.

Companies, financial institutions, professional services firms, universities, products, even individuals need to manage their visibility and their credibility, the experience and expectations that others have of them, in order to move ahead with their strategies and meet their goals.  This is getting more difficult in an era where all information is available across audiences immediately, and where building relationships across time zones and cultures, quickly and effectively, is a critical determinant of success. 

Organizations and their leaders need to accurately understand where they are starting from when they evaluate how to use the expectation management capabilities of brand and reputation management to move ahead.   They must have accurate self awareness in order to build public relationships that enable success, and that self awareness must be projected against a simple model, to support reputation growth or protection.

How can you approach that? There are many ways to get a baseline measure for how an audience understands an enterprise, a product, or a person.  In addition to the self-scrutiny that is essential to this process, it is equally important to evaluate peers, to put self-evaluation in perspective, from the point of view of the groups or individuals who are must act or advocate on your behalf.        It is also critical to identify the issues or concerns they have, in terms of their own objectives, to understand how a relationship with you can be of mutual benefit, and what attributes you have that are most and least aligned with their goals.

A consequence of this kind of analysis is the opportunity to create the “current state” base line, and understand the gap between your view of your own attributes, accomplishments, and potential, and the way you are seen by others. This gap analysis then serves as a template for the development of: messages as a framework for communications;  planned communications initiatives; relationship building opportunities; alliances;  community collaborations; and other reputation management activities. 

But there must be a moment of clear self awareness, at the beginning, for any reputation management strategy to be effective.  

Reputation is often considered to be one thing, to be managed in total.  While a simple “all in” reputation may be achieved in either very negative or very positive situations, for a short time, most organizations and individuals are understood in a less clear, more dimensional way.   Up to 32 attributes can be examined to understand reputation, ranging from innovation, to financial strength, to management depth, reflecting the complexity of an organization’s or leader’s multiple relationships across many audiences, cultures, and locations.

One simple approach is to understand your reputation starts with a two axis model.

  • One axis represents the visibility or degree of awareness an audience or influential person has of you .  This can be examined by up to 32 reputation attributes, or examined in aggregate.  Either way, without visibility, there is no reputation. This is often where self examination stops, and although an understanding of the awareness of an audience is important for setting strategy, it is insufficient.
  • The second axis represents the accuracy of the image of your reputation attributes held by each audience or influential person, versus the ideal image you would like them to have.  Call this image optimization.

This is a functional way to address the frequent frustration of many senior executives and public individuals that they are not understood as they would like to be. 

So, visibility versus image optimization is a good test of the current and potential situation, and the kind of effort that may be required to address it. For example, visibility can be achieved through paid media, where brand messages can be delivered in a time or place that is certain, with carefully chosen words and images.  Or it may be more productive to develop relationships with experts or advocates who can raise awareness of a product, or a person, or the attributes of an organization (e.g., innovation, best place to start a career, committed to customer service, highly profitable,  etc.). 

That’s the reason organizations need to integrate marketing, corporate communications, employee engagement, and government relations planning.  It takes a village to create a reputation. 

But a village needs a chief, usually, or a council of elders.  In many organizations, the chief or those elders, have a lot on their minds.  Once the management team—or the public individual and those who advise him or her— get a more accurate view of how the organization is seen, they need a simple score card to track the progress of the reputation building process.

Here is a simplified “staging” system for reputation management that can be applied to most organizations.

Reputation Stage Reputation Goal Brand and Reputation Communications

Stage 1: Foundation or Recovery


Earn the right to talk about the future

Introduce, or reintroduce, the organization to critical audiences. Focus on values and core attributes that justify the creation, or re-building of a relationship between the organization and each audience.

Stage 2: Development


Appear as you wish to be.



Use brand to present aspirational best -case version of products and company. Communicate the intent and the foundation for progress toward the relationship the organization wants with each audience. Define the interests that the organization has in common with each audience.

Stage 3: Alignment


Be as you wish to appear



Align values and actions across the organization, to be closer to the company that your audiences want you to be.  As business evolves, capitalize on the reputation that has been earned and keep investing in relationships built on that reputation.  Communicate actively about the evolution of the organization and achievements.  Demonstrate achievements in concert with common interests between company and audiences. Continue to earn the right to talk about the  future.

Stage 4: Achievement


Be seen as you are



When reality matches aspiration, keep living up to that aspiration, in values, actions, and in relationships.  Use reputation to achieve progress.  Communicate as a leader, shape the future for the company’s, industry’s, society’s benefit.  Define common interests of the company and audiences in a better future.

November 16th, 2011 | No Comments

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