By Devasis Chattopadhyay
When you’re one of the seven co-founders of a global tech-giant such as Infosys, and a billionaire businessman, you can make wild statements about your work ethic. N R Narayana Murthy certainly did when he recently advocated for a 70-hour work week. It created a huge controversy in our country. Or look at the tussle between the Parliament Ethics Committee and TMC member of the Parliament Mahua Moitra. It is always tricky to talk without filters. A single statement can cause significant damage even to a solid brand built over time, be it personal or corporate.
Brand reputation is a powerful currency that can either reinforce or undermine a company or a person’s success. In a world where transparency and trust are more important than ever to the public perception of a brand, the question every corporate entity and public personality should be asking is: “How can we control the narrative?”
Shouldering this responsibility is the Board of Directors (BoD) for the corporations. And I do not envy them. The BoD is under constant pressure from promoters and investors to provide higher returns on their investments (ROI). Creditors (mostly commercial banks) keep leaning on them for timely repayment of loans, or at the very least, to avoid defaulting on them. Government bodies want taxes to be paid in a timely manner. Distributors and retailers want higher margins. Consumers want world-class products and services at affordable prices. And, of course, employees demand hefty pay checks and generous benefits.
Even if an organisation checks most, if not all, these boxes, it is always talked about by its customers, employees, vendors, associates, investors, public-at-large, and, as a result, by the media. Add social media to the mix and it gets even trickier. In the online universe, the rapid spread of information and the power of social media can build or break brand reputation in minutes.
Which is why it is critical for the BoD to ask: “Are we listening to what our stakeholders are saying about us?” The opinions of stakeholders are an excellent source of information about your brand, and they can impact your reputation in fundamental ways. Since it is the Board’s duty to protect the company’s reputation, it must always communicate effectively with its stakeholders so that it can not only listen to the chatter, but influence and control it.
A good reputation points to a healthy brand, which suggests that the organisation can be trusted and provides a stellar stakeholder experience. But what about a negative reputation? This could lead to growth stagnation, revenue loss, employee and customer dissatisfaction, a decline in market share, and, eventually, an erosion in the stock price – a perpetual nightmare for investors. And, for a personal brand, for example for Mahua Moitra, it was the question of erosion of personal credibility.
We are all-too-familiar with how easy it is to ruin one’s brand reputation. In Indian corporate history, look no further than a certain ‘king of good times’, the high-flying mama-bhanjadiamantaire duo, and the saga of the ‘joy of flying’ airline.
There’s a Chinese saying: if you do not manage your reputation, your neighbour will manage it for you. No matter how well you excel at marketing your products and services, most customers will do a quick assessment of your corporate reputation before making a purchase decision. Brand reputation is critical, not only because it can attract customers, but it can also keep them coming back.
However, before you decide to take steps to enhance your brand reputation, ask yourself this: how is your brand currently positioned? You can use sophisticated metrics and processes to measure your corporate and personal reputation but instead of hiring a market research or brand consulting agency, which could put you out of pocket, here are eight simple rules that will work wonders. I practice them. I urge all to follow them. The best part is, they do not involve complex marketing strategies; all it takes is common sense and a commitment to the right work ethic. Here are my eight easy communications rules.
They are: Practice what you preach. It is important for you to align your actions with your values. It suggests integrity, which fosters trust among stakeholders or target audience (TA) / constituents. Be responsive to your surroundings, stakeholders, and TA. Treat them as you would want them to treat you. Listen to your stakeholders and TA more than you talk, and always try to resolve their issues. When criticised, accept responsibility, and take corrective measures, if needed. It is amazing how humanising a humble response to criticism can improve your reputation. Never lie. Honesty is the cornerstone of any relationship. A brand telling truth is perceived as reliable and credible.
Brands or public personalities rarely recover after they are caught lying. Do not over-promise. Promise only as much as you can deliver – and deliver every single time. It builds customer loyalty. Learn to be agile. In this hyper-connected world, where social media rules, you cannot afford to be laidback. What you have on your ‘To-Do’ list for today, complete now! Evaluate and re-evaluate every action as well as the reactions received because of it. Think through, amend actions, if necessary, and act accordingly. Your communications strategy should be dynamic. Not everything is cast in stone. Last but not least, non-verbal communication on the part of the organisation/ Brand is important as well.
In times when brands are reinventing and reimagining their business models, creating new hashtags, being more innovative, and relying on technology to give them an edge, remember that the cardinal rules for a healthy brand reputation are often the simplest. These eight rules – I call them the ‘Essential Eight’ – are so basic that businesses and public personalities tend to overlook them, even dismiss them. Not only are they fundamentally important to building and maintaining a healthy reputation, but your competitors have also likely looked right past them in favour of the latest tech solution on the block. So, sticking with the Essential Eight will automatically give you an advantage.
Make no mistake. Being a Brand – be it corporate, personal or political, is like being a talented acrobat – apart from constantly balancing priorities while making weighty decisions in the boardroom, or in the political and public arena, you have to also manage your brand reputation.
Warren Buffett famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Mull over his words and you might do some things differently. Here’s another bit of advice: It doesn’t matter how many hours of work you put in every week, it’s what you do in that time that really matters. (IPA Service)