Reputation isn’t just about branding

When we talk about branding, in large part what we’re actually referring to is how an organisation’s image and reputation are perceived by the outside world. When people see your logo, what is their first reaction?

Most large companies adhere to their brand guidelines quite strictly to make sure that when you think of them, you remember their logo, colours and products accurately. In large businesses, it takes a lot of time (and money) to keep consistency across everything they do. We blogged a while back about the long and arduous project that Facebook had to undertake to bring consistency back to its brand. But there’s also a big question mark around how company representatives can harm all that good work. Grafica is a design and communications agency, so the intrinsic link between logo and reputation is something we care deeply about.

Here’s a little experiment: Below is a list of companies. When you think of them, even though I haven’t included images of them, how many of their logos and the main colours associated with the brand spring instantly to mind? What do they make you feel? Your emotions will vary according to experiences you have had personally and to an extent what the media has said about them. Here they are:

  • BBC
  • John Lewis
  • Apple
  • Tony & Guy
  • Mastercard
  • Nike
  • News International
  • The Body Shop
  • Coca Cola
  • Starbucks
  • FIFA
  • Nestle

Now, some of those companies will provide you with products and services that make you happy, some may have immediate negative connotations and others will leave you ambivalent. A final group may give off confused messages. Take for instance, The Body Shop. At inception, it was the epitome of ethical trading. You knew that your products were responsibly sourced, everyone was paid fairly and even the packaging was recycled. The logo proudly portrayed trustworthiness right through the supply chain. As the company grew, founder Anita Roddick continually lobbied for ethics in cosmetics—and eventually laws about testing on animals were changed. Then, she became ill and sold the business to one of the companies she set out to oppose. Many people immediately lost brand trust, staff in Littlehampton (where we’re based) lost jobs and in some places, the logo no longer has the same clout. No amount of rebrand will hide the fact that the company is not the same as it was.

You may be wondering what that has to do with your business? Everyone can think of examples of stuff that goes wrong. You buy an expensive coat and the seam comes undone, you go out for a meal and hurt your knee falling down some obscured steps or you take your car to be fixed and it comes back with a never before seen warning light on. The issue is usually less about what went wrong than about how it was put right.

As you can probably tell, these stories come from personal experiences. A retailer who worries about an undone seam will quickly apologise and replace it, thereby guaranteeing that you go there first next time. The restaurant apologised and offered my friend a free return meal while everyone in the crowded room was watching. But the garage owner who argued that his team couldn’t possibly have fitted a faulty part and damaged something that was attached to the part they had just replaced was asking for reputation trouble. In this case, it took 14 weeks, many letters and arguments, Trading Standards, and the threat of legal action to get a refund on the work and compensation for the damage.

As a communications professional, I find it astounding that it got this far, especially as in the end, the garage had no choice but to pay. It’s often said that if someone receives good service, they tell one person, but if they receive bad service they tell 10. It’s also much easier to keep a client than to find a new one.

A week after this was finally resolved, ironically, we made a mistake. Well, two actually. The first was not to follow our own signing off process (yes, the one we wrote about here not so long ago) so we could have a business card print job waiting for our client when she got back from her holiday. The second was to not notice something on the cards before we sent them to print… Had we followed our usual process and asked her to sign it off, it would have delayed the job about 2 weeks, but our mistake would have been picked up on – and the job was needed urgently. We made a judgement call and got it wrong. This is the first time this has ever happened and thankfully it was a small job.

Remember what I said about it being how you put it right? We have a responsibility to practice what we preach! As soon as we heard, we immediately apologised for our mistake, recreated the artwork and sent the job off for sign off. When it was signed off, we sent it to the printer and paid for an express service so that the job was turned around in 24 hours. Yes, we ended up a bit out of pocket, but we received an email thanking us for sorting it so promptly – the new cards arrived within 48 hours of the old ones. And this isn’t us saying ‘didn’t we handle that well?’, it’s about us saying ‘our clients matter’ and ‘we won’t be making that mistake again!’

I guess the moral of this story is to say that putting a new logo on a damaged brand is a bit like wallpapering over a damp wall – it doesn’t last for long… Or, look after your clients on the small jobs and they’ll think of you for the big ones!

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