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The Difference Between Brand and Reputation

By: Scott Seroka
Several years ago, I had an experience that I am often reminded of as I work with our clients on building their brands.
There I was in the conference room of a San Diego mortgage company, helping the senior leaders understand our approach to building brands and explaining how we may be able to help them properly define theirs.
This company was stuck in a vicious and perpetual state of re-branding for quite a few years, and the reason they found themselves in this predicament was because they couldn’t reach a consensus on what the brand should be.
Countless hours were spent thinking, planning, and second-guessing themselves, and nothing ever came to fruition.
It was a classic case of analysis paralysis.
Plus, it didn’t help that they were trying to build a brand by a committee of twelve people. It’s no wonder they were in the situation.
So, as I was sitting at a table with their committee, the owner of the company said something right at the beginning of the meeting that I’ll never forget:
Before we can define what our brand is, we must first define what a brand is.
Although this makes complete sense and I knew exactly where he was going with it, it was the way he said it that really struck me and stuck with me.
(As you know, oftentimes it’s the little things you see or hear in life that really stick with you.)
A brand is the thoughts that come to people’s minds when they hear a company name or see its logo. 
It really is that simple, and the reason for this is because the term “brand” has become so ambiguous that its definition has come to rest quite comfortably in the mind of the beholder

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Here’s what I mean: Not too long ago, I asked ten people, individually, what comes to mind when they hear the name BMW.
Among the responses included: dream car, which came up three times, fast, expensive, which also came up three times, Mercedes’ evil twin, luxury, and their old tagline, the ultimate driving machine.
Okay. So, let’s switch gears and get personal here: Let’s talk about your brand.
If you were to ask ten random employees and ten random clients what comes to mind when they hear your company name, I think it would be interesting for you to hear the responses.
How many responses would be similar?
How many different ways is your brand perceived?
Would there be any pleasant, or unpleasant responses?
You know where I’m going here.
Now, let’s put that aside for a moment and talk about reputation:
Reputation is defined as the beliefs or opinions that are generally held about someone or something.
Yikes! If you give this just a few ounces of thought, that definition is pretty darn close to the definition of a brand.
So, here’s the question:
What exactly is the fundamental difference between brand and reputation?
We’ve already established that brand is defined as the thoughts that come to people’s minds when they hear a company name or see its logo. But, those thoughts and impressions had to have come from somewhere.
Typically, they are derived from a number of different sources, such as:

  1. A person’s prior experiences with the brand
  2. What friends or colleagues say about the brand
  3. Impressions of the brand based on any sort of online research such as its website or social media activity
  4. Whether or not the person has ever even heard of the brand

Now, if we go back to the definition of reputation – the beliefs and opinions that are generally held about someone or something, we can reasonably and confidently conclude that a brand earns a reputation based on the actions of its people. Specifically, a reputation is earned by how they conduct business with customers, as well as the quality of its products and service delivery.
Brands live and die on the quality, character and integrity of its people and what they produce! 
It’s no wonder so many CEOs are so focused on culture.
A crappy culture will kill a company.
A healthy culture will grow a company.
Fortune Magazine recently published a list of the World’s Most Admired companies for 2019. The top ten brands listed, in order, are:
Apple, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, Disney, Starbucks, Microsoft, Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Netflix, JPMorgan Chase & Co., FedEx. 
It probably came as no surprise to you that these were in the top ten. And it’s no coincidence that they are not only the most admired by consumers, they are also some of the most highly desirable companies to work for and build a career.
Question: Do you believe these companies could have ascended to the top of such a prestigious list if any had a poor reputation? 
Another question: Do you believe these companies could have ascended to the top of such a prestigious list if any had a poor culture? 
There is a clear and direct connection between a brand’s reputation and the health of its culture. You simply cannot earn an excellent reputation, which is a primary driver of business growth, if your people are not aligned with your vision, and adopt the same eagerness and determination to grow as the owner or CEO.
It’s amazing that somepeople don’t understand this simple concept especially considering how much more we know about brand and culture today as compared to just ten years ago.
Through the internal questionnaires I develop and surveys I conduct for companies, I still hear and read about dysfunctional cultures, revolving doors, poor leadership and complaints that good people are too hard to find.
So, here’s what I would like you to do: Next time you send a survey or questionnaire to your clients, customers or borrowers (and if you haven’t done so for more than twelve months, do it very soon), ask some questions to determine how they feel about, and perceive your brand. Ask how they define your strengths and your weaknesses.
And as long as you’re sending a questionnaire to your clients, send one to your employees to obtain the same information. The way employees respond from their unique perspectives and roles at your company will be very eye-opening.
Analyze each, and compare the two, side-by-side. Note the similarities. Note the differences.
If you don’t know what your brand and reputation is, this will provide a lot of clarity.
If this is an area where you would like some guidance and assistance, contact us. We’re in the business of building and rehabilitating brands with the goal of earning noble, noteworthy and respectable reputations.
Please contact me at

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