In the business world, it's hard to imagine a more ambivalent group of people than today's brand managers. With social media and globalization, they're faced with huge opportunities to grow their brands and company profits; but at the same time, one false step can really hurt. Just look at KFC – when the fried chicken company tried to break into the lucrative Hong Kong market in the 1980s, it didn't realize that its well-known slogan, “finger-lickin' good,” would translate to “eat your fingers off” in Chinese.
Of course, KFC changed the slogan posthaste, and the company is currently doing quite well in Hong Kong, and is growing strongly in mainland China. However, if this happened today, with sarcastic Tweets, memes, and fun-poking Tumblr posts, one could easily imagine a blunder like this turning into a full-blown crisis.
Pitfalls like this are one reason why a number of managers are turning to executive education to help with branding issues. “There's a realization that this is a really important topic,” says Kevin Lane Keller.
“Your brand is just critical, as an asset. It affects you in so many ways, and you can benefit from it in so many ways.”
Keller teaches on an executive program called “Brand and Reputation” at Dartmouth College's Tuck Executive Education. Over two and a half days, the program covers tools and frameworks that can help participants develop a strategic approach to building brand equity and reputation.
Likewise, McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business offers a one-day course in “Corporate Branding and Reputation Management,” as part of a broader which also covers strategic issues such as planning, as well as the importance of identifying stakeholders. The latter can be particularly important to many organizations, who often need to think outside the marketing box when considering brand and reputation. According to Barry Kuntz, who teaches on the program, “the course shows that building, growing and protecting corporate reputation is definitely not the job of marketing alone.”
“Indeed, a company can fail if they miss this very important point.”
Linking brand with reputation
These two programs are part of a growing number that link brand and reputation – two core concepts in corporate communications which often overlap. A large-scale study done last year by Hill+Knowlton found that even if the terms are frequently confused or used inaccurately, they are in fact strongly correlated, meaning that perceptions of both tend to move in the same direction. Additionally, the study found that “they are indeed separate constructs, and they speak to separate (though sometimes overlapping) audiences about different issues.”
“They're clearly related,” Dartmouth's Kevin Keller says. “When you think about it, reputation is another word for image, and brand image is a well-established concept in marketing.”
And indeed, Keller says that each topic generally draws a distinct group of participants: marketing people are more interested in the branding side, whereas the reputation content tends to attract those who work in corporate communications. This creates a dynamic environment where participants can learn from the course, as well as from each other.
“It broadens them, because they tend to focus on one of the two sides, and the other side is relatively new,” Keller says.
And beyond that, participants in these programs might find that they'll get a dose of practical experience, from which they can learn how to deal with real issues. In the Dartmouth program, attendees are encouraged to bring in their own branding and reputation issues, to discuss with the group. Likewise, in the DeGroote course, attendees participate in a mock media interview, where they can assume the role of an executive whose firm is currently in the midst of a crisis.
“This exercise and the discussion that follows demonstrates the fragility of corporate reputation, and the need to be prepared for any eventuality,” according to Barry Kuntz.
While everything #changes, everything remains the #same
As the news cycle is described in shorter and shorter time frames, the need to be prepared for any eventuality is becoming increasingly important. Just look at the social media team at Tesco, who, while the company was managing fallout from a scandal involving horsemeat last year, forgot to turn off its auto-Tweets. One unfortunate Tweet read “It's sleepy time so we're off to hit the hay! See you at 8am for more #TescoTweets."
But as pointed as this case may be, it also highlights the need to have a well-defined strategic approach in place to prepare for and manage these kinds of possibilities.
“So many things have changed,” says Dartmouth's Kevin Keller, who notes that new technologies, along with globalization, and an increased awareness of social responsibility, are three main forces that are currently affecting marketing.
“Those are three powerful forces, and they have definitely affected how we do branding.”
However, in the face of these larger shifts, the fundamental marketing concepts – like segmentation, targeting, and positioning – haven't changed, and are still as important as ever.
“Without the strategy side in place, it's going to be difficult to be successful, no matter how good you are tactically,” Keller says.