A couple of years ago a past colleague of mine called me for help. He wanted to know whether I knew a good design firm as he “desperately needed to re-brand his business“ (his words). He wanted a contemporary look for his company logo and website as it was old fashioned and obsolete. I asked him a few questions and it quickly became apparent that he had more fundamental problems than a website and logo. The core of it was that he had lost touch with his market, did not have a vision for the future and didn’t really understand what had gone wrong.

He eventually concluded that the company’s behaviour had become lazy and complacent and that his business was outdated and the brand irrelevant in the market. He had failed to innovate and was regularly losing customers to more nimble competitors who had better products and customer service.  In the end he conceded that his website and logo were the least of his problems. He needed to make radical changes to reinvent the business and restore the brand. Two years later he’s making good progress but still has a long way to go. Five years of neglecting your brand will do that.

But what is “brand” and why is it important? Brand, in my view, is simply how people  feel about a product, service or organisation. You can’t touch or smell it but you know what it is.

This essentially means that brand is an interchangeable word with reputation (in my opinion). It is a fulfilled promise to a market-place that resonates  with it and ultimately is considered valuable by it. At least that’s what a good brand is. Bad brands are exactly the opposite.

The development of a brand starts from the day an organisation is founded and is the living breathing embodiment of the cumulative (and collective) behaviours of that organisation from that day until now. Ben Rennie of the innovation lab 6.2 describes brands as a two way lens between the company and its users (customers, suppliers, market commentators etc). If that is correct (and I believe it is) then the public and private behaviour of an organisation, viewed not through their words but only through their actions, will eventually be judged by the marketplace at some point in time, whether they like it or not.

The concept of a two way lens is a dynamic process where companies and users behaviours are viewed and reviewed  constantly. These continual interactions are like a perpetual, unrelenting scorecard that quietly and seamlessly ticks away without interruption. Every single interaction has a positive or negative influence on a brand. Every single user has a say in how a brand is perceived. They vote with their decision to spend money with a company or not. They vote with their decision to come back or not. They vote with their opinion and how they talk about the brand. It is the cumulative scoring of these votes that ultimately determines a company’s reputation and whether its brand endures or not.

As an example, Qantas’ recent grounding of its entire fleet might have seemed the only viable economic option for its Board. But try and explain that to the honeymooners who saved for years for their dream holiday only to have it cancelled at the last minute. Or any of the other 68,000 passengers stranded around the globe. Did Qantas do the right thing in grounding its fleet? It depends on who you talk to. Did it damage its 90 year old brand? Yes. Was it worth it? Only time will tell. What is clear is that the flying public won’t trust them like they used to and it will take time, money and effort to win them back (if they can). That is the essence of “brand”, aka reputation, and why it is the most valuable asset that a company has.