Reputational Risk: Does your brand support your image?

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By Nick Langer, Risk Advisor

TOLMAN & WIKER INSURANCE SERVICES, LLC

 

What do you consider to be a “risk” of doing business?  Many owners asked immediately think about some form of litigation usually stemming from an employee, or third party bodily injury or property damage. These types of risk are known as hazard risks. Generally speaking these are risks you can transfer or finance through the purchase of insurance. Purchasing the right coverage is extremely important.

 

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Today I will discuss a class of risk called business risk, which although not insurable is manageable. It is considered an emerging risk and all business face it at some time during their lifetime. It is your “Reputational Risk.”

 

Buyers today are more educated, make quicker buying decisions, and have been exposed to a wide variety of service solicitations. Before they commence shopping for security services, your buyer has begun an investigation of the firms that provide the services they are seeking. It is likely that the moment you have the opportunity to introduce yourself and your firm, to a prospective new client, they have already completed an investigation of you and your firm just by searching the internet. What will their search tell them?

 

In this cut-throat industry your reputation, AKA your “brand”, is what sets you apart from the competition.  Your brand can open doors and create opportunities. But it can just as quickly prevent your from winning a client. Not only is your brand critical to your ability to attract and retain great clients, it is equally important in your ability to attract and retain great employees.

 

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”  – Warren Buffett

 

Ignoring one’s brand has dire consequences. Your brand is representative of how your client views your organization’s trustworthiness and integrity.

 

It is not unusual to see a security company utilize the following adjectives in their name: Aggressive; Force; Crisis; Impact, etc. Although benign in intent, the subliminal connotation of these words may be detrimental to your brand, ultimately tarnishing your reputation and limiting your ability to attract new clients. Trying to convince a prospective client (or new insurer) that your firm exemplifies safety and caution in the performance of your duties might be difficult when your firm’s name states the contrary. What do prospective buyers think of the “aggressive” or “forceful” security guards you are going to post on their property?

 

Building your brand goes beyond a clever name and attractive logo. It must start from within the walls of your firm. Your brand must positively reinforce your reputation and ultimately become a symbol of your firm’s integrity. Creating strong internal controls and communication is critical in building your brand. Owners establish the firms’ expectations by their actions and decisions. Management must reinforce those expectations throughout the various levels of the organization. Your control environment reinforces your organization’s commitment to structure, safety, integrity and ethical values. Without a supportive culture and an effective tone at the top for internal control, your firm is susceptible to breakdowns which can tarnish its reputation.

 

Globally regarded business growth authority Steve Blue, CEO of Miller Ingenuity—a 60-year old company that successfully implemented a corporate rebranding effort, offers these 7 best practice keys for effectively executing a rebranding initiative:

 

 Key #1: Get clear on what a brand is. 

A brand is not just your logo. A brand is the sum total of the messages, interactions, and experiences a customer has with your product, services, and people. To a customer, a brand is the promise of an EXPERIENCE and the customer’s EXPERIENCE of that promise delivered. It’s a valuable asset to nurture over time.

 

Key #2: Maintain control of the rebranding process.

Use a third party guide because it is easy for a re-naming effort to deteriorate into likes/dislikes or what your spouse thinks. Ground your brand in a strategy that recognizes not only the brand’s origins but also its ultimate destination in the current and future marketplace. Keep an open mind. Small ideas can get bigger and seemingly big ideas can diminish over time. Also identify those equities that cannot change.

 

Key #3: Understand that a brand has two owners: the marketer owns 50%; the customer owns 100%.

Yes, that’s 150% in total. The marketer produces messages, products and services. Your customer experiences the brand, and in the digital age, they are in ultimate control of their messages they receive. Therefore, check in with customers and, at the very least, include those internal players who have the most customer contact. The worst thing you can do is to decide all branding issues at the top level and dictate it to customers and your troops who must deliver the brand experience. You risk a loss of relevancy and buy-in.

 

Key #4: Your logo, tagline, typography and design should tell a single-minded story.

Every brand is heroic in some way. Its look, feel, and message should tell one story. Think about what your brand fights for and against what odds. Consider what is at stake for customers in terms of their problems and how you solve those for them. By becoming a hero to your customers, you, in turn, make heroes out of them. That’s truly adding value.

 

Key #5: Never forget that a brand should always remain fluid.

Some will warn you that changing your brand is a major risk. If it fails, it can be expensive and disruptive. Note Coca Cola’s experience with “New Coke.” However, if you do not violate a brand’s established equities and values, you can still add flexibility into a brand that allows it not to lose relevance. For example, Tide Detergent is built on consumer’s trust that it gets clothes clean—yet the brand has found multiple fresh expressions of that proposition over the years, even adding benefits to fend off competitors. Therefore, create a brand positioning that is broad enough to be as relevant today as yesterday and flexible enough to be relevant in the future.

 

Key #6: Never stop supporting and promoting your brand

Successful brands are a living presence in the marketplace with a tangible relationship with its customers. It’s easy to support a brand in boom times, but much tougher in down times. However, study after study has shown that brands that are consistently supported during a down cycle, gain greater sales and share when the economy turns up—over those who cut support activities.

 

Key #7: Be a Brand Champion

Having gone through the discipline of crafting or refreshing your brand, appoint a key leader, typically in Marketing, to be a Brand Champion. Set up brand guidelines and procedures to make sure the identity you have carefully created presents a consistent image and message in marketing communications from business cards to digital media, in sales presentations, in signage, at events and trade shows—wherever the customer will engage with your brand.

 

Managing your reputational risk is critical in securing the future of your firm. If you are reading this and thought to yourself… “We need a new logo or a new website”… STOP! Remember, your brand differentiates you from your competitors. It is a symbol of what your firm stands for, your services and your reputation. If it is determined that a rebranding is needed, make certain that your efforts begin with identifying your reputational risk and designing a plan which both strengthens the reputation of your firm and creates a brand which symbolizes what you stand for.

 

A new logo with an image of a guard in SWAT gear carrying and assault rifle may look amazing. But what message does that convey? Is the message a positive or a negative one to your target market?

 

This article was originally published in CALSAGA’s newsletter.
Tolman & Wiker Insurance Services, LLC is an official CALSAGA preferred broker.

 

Image credit: castillodominici / istockphoto.com

 


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