A look at reputation and brand

By Jenni Bacon

At the recent CharityComms 'Keeping your reputation spotless' conference, we asked what people thought were their organisation's greatest reputational assets and what might be the reputational icebergs on the horizon.

And the results are in.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 'brand' featured strongly as one of the top assets of an organisation, but what makes a strong brand? 

When you begin to unpick it, for charitable organisations, people's comments suggest that the expertise and experience of an organisation can play a big role as well as its history and heritage. A charity brand can never just be skin deep.

Another key asset identified was the people who make up an organisation - membership, staff, and the people the organisation works to serve. People promote the expertise, the experience and the heritage of an organisation - they are the voice of the reputation and the ambassadors of the brand.

This fact can be both asset and iceberg, as one contribution makes especially clear:

Asset

We are guided by the people we support

Iceberg

We are guided by the people we support"

Many of the comments related to this issue in some way. People are very often an organisation's best brand asset, and as such can play a big part in the confusion that can hinder organisations. People can go 'off message', make 'gaffes', and find it hard to promote the real message.

Where an organisation's brand isn't clear internally, confusion can arise and the message about what they do and what the organisation stands for can become distorted. This has a knock-on effect on public understanding and can create confusion about the cause, which in turn has the potential to damage the organisation's reputation.

One of the keys to overcoming these icebergs is brand management. For not-for-profit organisations, where people matter so much, brands can't simply be handed down from on high. Everyone within an organisation needs to feel invested in the brand and know what it stands for, so they can engage other people - their target audiences - in effective relationships. If the message is clear within, there is less opportunity for confusion and misunderstanding.

Understandably, investment in brand is not always top of the list of priorities for charities and not-for-profit organisations constantly facing funding issues, and this was highlighted as another major iceberg. As the conference brought to light, in these instances communications teams (often a team of one!) need to get creative in the way they do things. As Benjamin Franklin said, 'we have no money, therefore we must think!'

How could your people and your brand be working more creatively for you?

For more on the role of brand in building reputations and keeping them spotless, see Max du Bois' thought piece here, based on his talk from the conference.