Reputation comes before brand. But what does that mean?

Okay, so we all agree that "reputation is a winning company's greatest asset," right? That makes it pretty darn important.

But what exactly do we mean by reputation? And how does it differ from brand?

These are crucial questions – the two words are central to the professions of communications and marketing, yet there seems to be widespread disagreement on what reputation and brand really mean.

I generally love Wikipedia but this isn’t helpful:

Reputation, as distinct from image, is the process and the effect of transmission of a target image. To be more precise, we call reputation transmission a communication of an evaluation without the specification of the evaluator, if not for a group attribution, and only in the default sense.

Got that?

This is how I would begin:

Reputation is the audience filter that comes before consideration – of purchase, investment, recommendation, or employment. A positive reputation opens the door to consideration; a negative reputation can slam it shut.

Brand is all about identity and connotation, but it has no power to drive action without reputational “permission.”

Advertising pioneer David Ogilvy (who would’ve turned 100 a few months ago), made this simple and brilliant distinction:

“Brand is the promise that an organization makes. Reputation is whether it lives up to that promise”. (Thanks to Mike Hatcliffe’s blog for that.)

Other useful definitions:

“Reputation is (corporate) culture seen from the outside.” – Alan Towers, TowersGroup Inc

Reputation is “how much a community trusts you.” – Stackoverflow

If there is any doubt of reputation’s primacy before brand, consider this pithy command to the marketer by Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airways and someone who knows a bit about branding:

“Build brands not around products but around reputation.”

And finally, on the notion of “building your own personal brand” as distinct from your reputation:

You build reputation by silently doing, proving and acting on everything you said you were going to do while building your brand. If your brand is … that you know what the hell you’re talking about, your reputation is the proof that you do. – Lisa Barone, Outspoken Media

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