Unless effort and awareness are put into managing reputation, saving a brand from damage is going to be difficult, regardless of how much time, effort and money has been put into it.
Indeed, we’d go as far to say a bad reputation will trump an established brand every time. (No pun intended with our use of “trump”.)
Brand has expanded its meaning in recent years. It now encompasses people’s individual traits and personalities. Just about every major sportsperson and would-be celebrity talks about their brand. Which in this case has emphasis on personal credibility and marketability.
Organisations can invest considerable amounts on advertising and promotion to build brand recognition.
While many attributes of a brand are tangible – a recognisable logo, advertising campaigns, sponsorship, a slogan – reputation is less so.
But no brand can be built without managing reputation.
In some ways it can be argued that brand building is the purview of marketing, while building reputations and their management is the contribution to brand made by public relations.
In financial services, reputation is of critical importance. Indeed, having a reputation for competence and skills has been one of the main criteria needed for success. It has always been so, but particularly after the Royal Commission that exposed malpractice and wrong-doing throughout the sector.
Along with other developments it became a major issue for financial planners in particular, many of whom do not have the type of budget needed to build a brand using traditional marketing techniques.
For financial planning firms, recognition and reputation are what attract clients. And it’s not just the firm’s reputation but also that of the individual planner. People want to contact and deal with a person, not an organisation, to talk about their personal finances. They need to trust the adviser.
This includes having a name for quality of service, ability, knowledge and adding value.
One of the lessons from the Royal Commission fall-out, and the other examples of malpractice in financial services that have been aired, is that regardless of the care taken in building a corporate image, it can be undone by the bad behaviour of one person in an organisation.
And if the exposure is then mishandled the problem grows so that what could have been a manageable issue becomes an out-of-control crisis.
In a political sense, this is what we have seen in the French submarine saga, with Scott Morrison learning the difference between Brand and Reputation the hard way.
Could the pain have been eased if the communication with France was handled differently? There can be little doubt. Did Australia respond insensitively to France’s angst when the contract was cancelled? It seems so. Dismissing it as “Well they would be disappointed at losing a contract” and ignoring the French reaction to the way it was done sent its own message and ended up causing international drama.
But no doubt our government will continue to down-play the situation and rely on the news cycle moving on as it has before.
Nonetheless, the damage to the Government’s brand and reputation is very real and could take some effort to rebuild.