Reputation ≠ Image ≠ Brand

The terms reputation and image still pose confusion among scholars and especially those in the communication industry. The thin line between the two has made most people fail to distinguish the meaning of each term and, as a result, have used them interchangeably. However, the corporate image and corporate reputation should not be applied interchangeably as they do not mean the same thing. Former CEO of the legendary Finnish design brand Marimekko, Kirsti Paakkanen, has clearly defined the differences between reputation and image (Heinonen 2006):

“You can always build an image by marketing activities, but reputation is something more profound. You can have a good reputation if your home base is in good shape. Reputation is deeply linked to corporate culture; values, honesty, transparency and ethics. Reputation is more about actions and less about words.”

In other words, by practicing reliably and responsibly, an organization gains reputation. That is to say, a company has to strive to “be good” and not to “look good” (Aula & Mantere 2008).

Brand is also a term that is closely related to reputation. In fact, the term has featured prominently in the latest discussions featuring reputation. The term “brand” originated from burned marks on the skin of a cow that formed the means of identification to the buyer or a thief from which ranch the cow came. Also, to distinguish villains in the society, they were “branded” on the skin so as they could appear different from others forever. The same distinguishing concept has been used by corporations today.

Brands are primarily used to distinguish the product of the organization from that of its competitors and comprises a sign, a name, and a symbol. Additionally, a brand consists of an important element that identifies and distinguishes from objects that are similar. For this explanation, a brand implies something more than a product, albeit a good brand is associated with a good product. A brand denotes the feeling, thinking, and the knowledge of the consumer about the product such that he or she can provide a logical reason as to why he or she is buying the product. Nonetheless, the user may not mention emotional reasons that form the primary reason for the purchase of a branded product. The emotional drive about a product arising from the design, status, or success interacts with logical thinking when buying a product. Strategically, the product physical features can be copied, but the “brand spirit” cannot (Aula & Mantere 2008).

Additionally, professors Fombrun and Van Riel (2004) note that reputation and brand bear a lot of similarities, but differ in significant ways and thus cannot be applied synonymously. A brand provides the description of the relationship that consumers have with the products of the organization, whereas reputation is more of an assessment from various stakeholders on the ability of the organization to meet their expectations. This is to imply that an organization can have a poor reputation regardless of its strong product brands or corporate brands. These authors clearly and effectively specify the close correlation between reputations and brand as follows: branding has an effect on the probability of a good buying decision from the customers, whereas reputation has an impact on the possibility of supportive and positive behavior from all the stakeholders of the brand. As such, branding is a component of reputation management.

More to read:
Aula P. & Heinonen, J. (2015) The Reputable Firm: How Digitalization of Communication Is Revolutionizing Reputation Management. Springer

Aula, P., & Mantere, S. (2008). Strategic reputation management: Towards a company of good. New York: Routledge.
Fombrun, C. J., & van Riel, C. B. M. (2004). Fame & fortune. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Heinonen, J. (2006). Mainejohtaja (pp. 33–34). Juva: WSOYPro.