Assessing corporate reputation vs. brand

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Don Sexton is a professor of business at Columbia University. BtoB recently asked him about trends in reputation analysis tools and metrics.

BtoB: What's the difference between branding and reputation?

Sexton: I personally don't think there's a big distinction. I define branding as having three components: 1) identifiers, such as the name of the company or its logo; 2) its attributes, which may be positive or negative and may consist of such characteristics as trust, integrity or product-related benefits; and 3) the associations or linkages between the identifiers and attributes, and how quickly they come to mind. A company with a strong reputation usually has powerful linkages between its identity and these attributes.

BtoB: But isn't reputation broader than that, reaching out to many more people than just customers—for example, employees, investors or the local community?

Sexton: This model works whatever the market, although positioning for different audiences may emphasize different attributes. For example, a company may want investors to think of it as a growth opportunity, while wanting its employees to think of the company as an exciting but secure place to work.

BtoB: Where does a company start in assessing its reputation?

Sexton: First take an inventory of current brand-attribute associations of yourself, as well as of your competition. Then step back and determine where you want to be and develop the methods of communications to make it happen.

BtoB: How do you measure success here?

Sexton: You can use surveys, but a very powerful approach is called constrained choice models. Here, you show respondents different combinations of product or service attributes, including your brand and your price, and ask them to rank the different combinations. Then, through modeling software, you can determine the preferred combinations and what people will pay for them. This information helps you estimate the value of your brand and set your pricing.

BtoB: Can reputation have a direct impact on the bottom line?

Sexton: Yes. Using these techniques and other models, you can directly relate it to profit and cash flow, as well as shareholder value, which consists of investors' estimates of the cash flows a company can be expected to generate.

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