Reputation: More Important Than Brand

Written by Paul on October 30th, 2008

This is a guest post by Thursday Bram, a freelance journalist currently located in Laurel, MD.

As you’ve built your business, you’ve put a lot of effort into building a brand. You have a logo, a website, and a business card establishing who you are and what you do. But there is one thing more important than your brand: your reputation. With a poor reputation, putting more work into your brand just isn’t worth the time.

Warren Buffett understands the importance of a good reputation — and how difficult it is to overcome a poor past. When Buffett wants to add another company to Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio, he’ll ignore those options with bad reputations even as he looks at companies with cash-flow problems and members of weak industries. Says Buffett,

When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is usually the reputation of the business that remains intact.

He has every confidence that he can deal with any other problem in a business, but even Warren Buffett doesn’t feel up to repairing a poor reputation.

Build An Amazing Reputation

We know that a poor reputation is not something we want. But how can we build a reputation that really helps our businesses (and our personal brands)?

Many companies build their reputation by ‘underpromising and overdelivering.’ They want to give the image that they’ve gone a step beyond for their clients while really just performing at their normal level. As far as reputations go, this sort of average performance isn’t bad: businesses that succeed in underpromising and overdelivering certainly won’t scare off prospective clients. But they also won’t have a great reputation.

To get a great reputation, your business needs to go beyond average. You need to promise great things and deliver. Go back to Warren Buffett for a moment: everyone wants stock in Berkshire Hathaway because of his reputation of making money for his investors. He got that reputation by demonstrating, time and again, that he could get the great returns he promised. You don’t have to get Buffett’s return to build a great reputation, but you do need his ability to follow through.

On one level, building a good reputation is easier than building your brand. You don’t need to print out fliers or distribute business cards to let people know about your abilities; your clients will do it for you. You do need to make sure that your clients have a few good things to contribute to your reputation, though. At the most basic level, your customer has to be satisfied. Your product must be problem-free or your service must be completed on time. But you should take customer satisfaction to the next level. Go beyond their expectations and provide a product with an extra bell or whistle.

As your business grows, your brand will change. Your logo may go for a redesign and your website may get an upgrade. But the reputation you have today will still be affecting your business. In ten years, your customers will still remember you — if you go beyond their expectations.

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7 Responses to “Reputation: More Important Than Brand”

  • Diana D. Jarvis

    Isn’t your reputation part of your brand?

    — 10/30/08 at 8:58 am

  • I’ve lived on my reputation for about 4 years as a good web designer and avoided building any sort of brand. Now I want a brand to go along with the reputation.

    My presence online consists of a rarely updated blog and a bunch of work I’ve done for clients, and I still get more work requests than I could ever handle purely by word of mouth and people saying “Ben does good work, try him.”

    — 10/30/08 at 10:50 am

  • Like Marty Neumier said in his book “The Brand Gap”, and I’m sure Seth Godin in some fashion, “your brand isn’t what YOU say it is – it’s what THEY say it is”.

    Also, while companies may understand the value of reputation in their brand, they fail to deliver on their brand promises by hiring the wrong people (Jim Collin’s – “right seat on the bus”). So while the top management feels good about their brand, and are living it day to day, the people under them are not. And that’s where the customer interaction point usually is.

    Building brand reputation requires meeting your brand promises, and measuring them. How else do you know if you are succeeding or not? It doesn’t always come down to weather or not you moved the sales needle, but how people are conversing about your brand on the outside.

    — 10/30/08 at 12:07 pm

  • Thanks. That’s a concept I’ve never thought of. Building my reputation matters more than creating a logo or brand. Excellent. Now I can save some more money!

    — 11/05/08 at 2:20 am

  • Interesting concept…I would say that you brand is the feelings, professionalism and reputation that is associated with your logo. The logo is really just a visual representation for your business. That visual representation should be applied to your website, blog, business cards, emails, snail mail pieces, billing statements, newsletters and anything that touches a client or potential client…this will drive your brand. In today’s business world we need to make sure that we are doing everything possible to stick out!

    — 11/08/08 at 3:51 pm

  • Good article. I would like to respectfully point out one thing: Buffett isn’t pointing out reputation in the sense of having a bad reputation, he’s just saying that you can’t fix bad economics (ie airplane business) no matter how brilliant you are.

    Reputation/brand/etc has to do with trust, IMO. Do you trust them? Do you trust them to do what they promised? Everything else is integral to that. People can trust authority and a strong demeanor (so you wear suits and good clothes). People trust those who do what they say.

    Jordan Peterson has something to say about trust’s role in the government-market issues currently:

    Keep up the good work!

    — 01/26/09 at 6:21 pm

  • Oops, wrong link up there. Right link here:

    Under the Big Ideas category below the video, there’s another talk by him about the nature of evil. Very good.

    — 01/26/09 at 6:25 pm

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