Oh the Irony

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Do you ever feel like two obscure things come together at highly ironic times? That’s how I feel about the assigned topic for this week and the top sports headlines in the media right now.
 
This week’s topic is brand reputation…the good, the bad and the ugly.
 

I attended a tourism conference last year and the keynote speaker was CBS travel correspondent Peter Greenberg. During his address, he took a clever jab at the domestic airline industry quipping that the collective slogan of the industry should be “Airlines, where we’re not happy until you’re not happy!” I thought this was brilliant at the time, given the dismal service that has come to be expected by many of the top domestic carriers. And that was before the video went viral showing a United passenger being drug off a plane.

Peter Greenberg. Photo Credit CBS News

 

 
Building – and even more importantly, maintaining – a strong brand reputation is not an overnight objective. It takes years to cultivate the image and requires continued, diligent effort on the part of a person or organization (Conner, 2014).
 
As Rosendale (2015) pointed out, effective branding can build transparency, stakeholder interaction and involvement, speed/cost/credibility and market expansion. These are the positive outcomes of branding. According to Rosendale (2015), branding is about selling the organization, not the organization’s products. I tend to agree.
 
 
As an organization behaves consistently, so is it perceived. This goes for personal brands too, in which an intentional image is built around an individual. The trick is that, whether a personal or organizational brand, these are fluid in nature. In essence, perception of brand is in the eye of the beholder (Sutherland, 2009). The goal is to build credibility, and keep consumers coming back (Rosendale, 2015).
 
Brand reputation has never been more valuable than now, in the era of the digital revolution.
Now, marketers and strategic communicators have the ability to listen and watch the conversations taking place about their organization, engage with consumers like never before, and ideally, be proactive in portraying a brand.
 
64% of our time online is spent on social media (Fulgoni & Lipsman, 2014). Remember a few weeks ago when we talked about the average of five hours per day spent on social media? What’s almost comical is in the same article from 2014, Fulgoni and Lipsman noted how video was lagging behind…I highly doubt they’d report the same findings today, a mere three years later.
 
Digital branding efforts ensure that dollars are being spent on direct efforts to reach precise audiences (Fulgoni & Lipsman, 2014). Social media comes with the potential to engage a massive audience with minimal cost (Rosendale, 2015). Possibly the biggest cost is not utilizing these tools. Check out a great video by Erik Qualman about use of social media for organizations:
 


We have a small-scale example of this here in Grand Junction for our Rim Rock Marathon. We spend a minimal amount marketing the event, but we have such specific data about our participants, that we know exactly who to target in our promotion. We do just that and we’ve seen incredible success with it.

 

Photo from the 2015 Rim Rock Marathon

 

Imagine big corporations. With access to big data, multiple platforms and exorbitant resources. Is it possible marketers know more about us, and likely our spending patterns, than we know about ourselves?
 
“With an integrated view of campaigns and the appropriate multi-platform data, however, media planners can use osmosis between channels to ensure that dollars are being optimally allocated” (Fulgoni & Lipsman, 2014, p. 15). Say WHAT?
 
Data-driven marketing and branding are here to stay.
 
So what about the flip side? We’ve only looked at the good (depending on who you ask) side of brand reputation, but what happens when it hits the fan, so to speak?
 
Sports is seeing this right now, regularly. Especially *sigh* my alma mater, University of Louisville. And, the NFL.

 

 
Apparently, after the headlines in the sports world the last few weeks, I would have been wise to save my plug for Dr. Daniel Diermeier’s book Reputation Rules for this week. But I’ll bring it back up again now.
Read this book!
 
Every organization should be aware of potential communications crises. Take Louisville again. I’m thinking right about now they are retaining a high-dollar crisis communications expert. Probably way too late, as they’ve been plagued by bad press in recent months. (On a side note, Louisville is still a great school, with wonderful academic programs and I loved my time there, so it is truly unfortunate to see what is happening.)
 
The thing is, with the plethora of information available and the warp-speed at which it can travel, no person or organization is immune from a communications crisis. Remember up above I said building brand reputation requires behavioral consistency to change perception. Louisville has a long road ahead to restore its reputation. While immediate intervention is an absolute must, brick by brick the institution must rebuild its reputation over the long haul.
Rick Pitino
 
Another unfortunate aspect of a brand reputation crisis is the domino affect it has on innocent bystanders. In the case of Louisville, the current – albeit not the only recent – controversy primarily centers on the athletic program. Due to the high profile stature of the program, I would venture to guess the institution might see decline in total admissions as an additional fallout of this federal probe.
 
If this happens, the impact can trickle to student fees, development dollars, and the like. The scope of scandal may be far broader than just the men’s basketball program.
 
Jumping back to the personal brand side of things. There is no doubt the personal brand of soon-to-be-former coach Rick Pitino has and will suffer greatly. If there is any silver lining to this entire saga – which  I believe is just the tip of the iceberg – it is the chance for a valuable learning lesson.
 
There has been no more respected coach in men’s college basketball than the late John Wooden. One of my favorite quotes from Wooden goes like this, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
 
And we are back to an interesting irony, just the way we started this blog. Two of the most successful basketball coaches of all time…one focused on character and departs as a legend, the other focused on reputation and departs as a fraud. If only the later would have heeded the advice of the former.
 
Perhaps this week’s concept should not be called “brand reputation” at all. Perhaps, we should take the lead from the good coach and call it “brand character” instead. Modern sports could use more good guys like Coach Wooden.
 
This has been another edition of Stoll on Sports. Thanks again for riding along!
 
References
 
Conner, C. (March 2014). Top online reputation management tips for brand marketers. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2014/03/04/top-online-reputation-management-tips-for-brand-marketers/#1140a96c13e3
Fulgoni, G. & Lipsman, A. (2014). Digital game changers: How social media will help usher in the era of mobile and multi-platform campaign-effectiveness measurement. Journal of Advertising Research, 54(1), 11-16. Doi: 10.2501/jar-54-1-011-016
 
Rosen, N. (January 2013). Fundamentals of personal branding. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/fundamentals-of-personal-branding-2012-10
Rosendale, J. A. (2015). New communication technologies in organization communications and branding: The integral role social media now play. The Florida Communication Journal, 43(2), 49-59.
 
Sutherland, R. (July 2009). Life lessons from an ad man. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/rory_sutherland_life_lessons_from_an_ad_man

 

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