In today's digital and social media world where company's actions, strategic decisions, press releases and statements, andeven the behavior of top executives could be talked about, applauded, criticized, or condemned, brand building and reputation management become more important than ever. Thus, both have become regular agenda in boardroom discussions and hot topics at business gatherings.
Considering the importance of these topics, P&A Grant Thornton held its 4th Growth Series, featuring two experts: Sarah Croot, the head of business development at Grant Thornton International (GTIL) and Chiqui Escareal-Go, the founder and CEO of Mansmith and Fielders.
Ms. Croot succinctly explained the difference between branding and reputation; the former being customer centric and the latter company-centric. Branding is about unique value proposition. How different are you compared to competitors? How relevant are your products and services to your customers?
Reputation, on the other hand, is the sum total of the track record. How have your previous actions and statements impacted on how people look at you? It is important for us to differentiate the two so we can be guided on how to better approach each discipline and achieve what each aims for.
Ms. Escareal–Go pointed out that the two are different but are certainly connected. Branding and reputation when put together result in one’s brand equity, a powerful driver that entices customers to avail of one’s goods and services.
Brand Equity for Professional Services Firms
Unlike goods that you can tangibly see, feel and even taste (clothes that you can try on or cars that you can test-drive) before you buy, professional services (services offered by law firms and accounting and auditing firms) are engaged based on “blind acquisition.” Clients avail intangible products that they haven’t seen or experienced, but based mainly on a promise. Accordingly, brand equity is certainly important to professional services firms.
Professional services are sold based on trust. Clients avail of the professional services, trusting that the professional services firm can do the job. This trust is earned based on name recall and familiarity (brand strength), track record (good reputation), and what people say about the company (positive word-of-mouth).
For those working in professional services firms like us, are focused, understandably, on rendering quality services. We put on man-hours to understand the clients’ industry, work hard to produce excellent outputs, and crack our brains to give clients the best advice. We strive to learn the latest in their fields. We continuously study and hone our knowledge and skills through training and education. But is delivering excellent service alone enough for building the brand of professional services firms?
Brand Building and Reputation
Companies, under the ambit of corporate good governance, practice their vision, mission and values more strictly. Top management knows that building a brand and a reputation, and strengthening them take time and significant resources. However, significant blunders and missteps can put the hard-earned reputation at risk. Thus, top management zealously put oversight and controls to ensure brand protection and to counter negative or malicious attacks.
Another significant component of brand building is communication. No matter how good we are in what we offer but if the market and stakeholders aren’t aware of it, our brand equity shall not be strengthened. We need to improve the way we communicate and engage with our constituents – employees, clients, business community and the public, in general. Do not look at public relations and communication as expenses but rather as investments.
Most companies now build and communicate around the brand. The usual route is through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Certain studies show that people patronize companies that “do good” or those with CSR programs or social advocacies such as “being green,” or “considering the earth or climate change” in its actions. In the past, CSR activities are done quietly and on the side, but nowadays, these activities give life to the brand and reputation of a company.
Employees play an important role in brand building efforts. Who else could better talk about our companies (and be considered credible) than our own people? Brand building should not lose sight of the need to rally internal stakeholders so they’d feel good about the brand and feel excited to share their experiences about it. It is time that we as brand builders and marketers ask ourselves: “How can we work together with the HR team to build good brand equity from within?”
After communicating and building the brand to our constituents, what is the next imperative? We must understand how others perceive us! Does the market know the services that your company offers? What do they know about you? Results of this research will serve as a basis for developing your next steps.
Brand equity is a key to a company’s success and overall business growth. It has to be strengthened and protected especially now that the communication technology allows anybody to attack or even destroy a company’s brand and reputation. Building and strengthening the brand equity is not just the responsibility of top management and corporate communications, PR, or marketing teams, it is the responsibility of everyone in the company. Each has a role to play and each one must be the brand’s best possible ambassador.
Mai Sigue-Bisnar is Partner, Audit & Assurance, and Head, Markets Group, of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firm in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 700 staff members.
As Published in The Manila Times dated August 10, 2016