Is your image a reputational risk?

While image may seem trivial under these unprecedented COVID circumstances, it is in fact the very thing driving a lot of media coverage, providing fodder for a hungry media and creating vast opportunities for social media commentary, which, as we know, is most likely to be negative and nasty.

Two major surveys this year had me thinking more deeply about exactly how much image – which for me is a combination of one’s appearance, behaviour, communication and digital footprint, or ABC&D – are contributing factors to reputational risk.

The most recent survey is out of the UK, from CNA Hardy, a London-based business insurance firm that shows the reputational risk is on the increase. In fact, it has risen very sharply over the past 12 twelve months.

Reputations are under threat from many directions.

The second is the 2020 Weber Shandwick report The State of Corporate Reputation in 2020: Everything Matters Now which shows that reputation is “Omni driven.” Yes, I had to look that up, too. It means, in this case, that “a company’s reputation is influenced by a variety of factors, with no one driver having a greater impact than all of the rest.”

The top three risks in the Weber Shandwick report are:

  1. Quality of product or services
  2. Quality of employees
  3. Quality of customer service

The ABC&D of image applies in all three, but particularly so to the quality of employees and customer service. Market research from Nielsen has shown that it’s the personal interactions with a company’s employees that matter most when customers are in a selection or purchasing situation. Their research shows that 83% of people trust product or service recommendations from people they know versus 33% of people who trust messages from a brand alone.

Hardly surprisingly in our challenging COVID world, companies, more than ever, want to ensure their employees are aligned with their products, services, culture, and values. This is expressed in how they appear, behave, and communicate, both in and outside of work, the outcome of which can significantly impact an organisation’s reputation.

Take Bunnings for example. They have literally ‘battled’ to protect themselves, their fellow workers, and customers in Australia’s hotspot, Melbourne.

Last weekend, reports emerged that customers to the much-loved hardware chain in one Melbourne suburb had refused to wear masks citing “human rights”. According to the ABC, the weekend’s viral video of a woman arguing about wearing a mask with staff and police in the Melbourne Bunnings store caused widespread outrage. The original video, shared on Twitter by an unaffiliated user (to the ABC), has been viewed more than a million times.

So let’s imagine two different corporate leadership scenarios here:

  1. You’re CEO at Westfarmers (owners of Bunnings), and you would be feeling proud of your employees’ behaviour and communication, and indeed, their appearance – they were all wearing masks.
  2. A vastly different scenario, potentially, if you are CEO for the company that employs ‘Bunnings Karen’ who has flaunted the Victorian Government’s rules and not worn a mask. Suddenly, your employee’s face is splashed across the airwaves, globally. The ABC&D all come into play.

From my corporate leadership days, I know that I’d be concerned right now, torn between compassion, the need for reassurance, and wanting to protect, as best I could, our precious reputation. That’s all we have after all.

“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.

What do you need to be doing differently in your organisation to protect your and your company’s reputation through the careful reinforcement of ABC&D?

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Written By Michaela Betchley

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