The properties of reputation

Reputation is both simple and complex. At first glance, it’s very simple indeed; it’s what people think of you. However, when you try to formalise it and then try to measure it, things gets much more tricky.

Borrowing from science, it is sometimes helpful to observe a subject’s properties in order to better understand it.

I’ve listed some of the properties of reputation below. I’ve found them helpful in understanding its complexity and managing it. Do you agree with them? Would you add to them or remove any of them?


Reputation is divisible right down to the individual – you can have a different reputation among different groups.


Reputation is connected – if you change your reputation among one group, your reputation among others might change too.


Some people or groups have more influence over your reputation than others.


Reputation cannot be accumulated or diminished in standardised units – it cannot be spent like money. This does not mean you cannot draw upon a good reputation during troubling moments

Sticky downward

It’s easier to lose a good reputation than it is to build one.

Knowing and understanding

I’ve been reading Dave Trott’s blog for years. He has a great turn of phrase and he makes his point very clear. He also has a habit of making the same point more than once. So while you read his blog, he’s hammering home the same point he’s made a few times before. Different stories every time, but the same point. It’s a nice way to do things. Sharing stories but repeating the point, making sure the message registers.

Dave’s current theme is about ‘simple human truths’. He’s used stories about Bernbach and John Webster to make his point. And it’s a good point. And it got me thinking about the difference between knowing and understanding, which in turn led me to recollect a story James Harding once told at an event about Ned Kennan.

Ned Kennan was a market researcher back in the 1960s. He was working for Listerine. Their market research data told them a lot about their customers: how wealthy they were; when they were most likely to use mouthwash; and so on. The data meant they knew a lot about their customers. Armed with that data, Listerine’s top management were seeking to grow sales by 2-3%.

Kennan boldly suggested that he could grow sales by 25%. He’d run some focus groups and he’d figured out that people who used Listerine followed the rules. They read instructions and they followed them. So if you were supposed to use a capful of mouthwash, they’d use a capful. If you made the cap 25% larger, then you’d sell 25% more mouthwash. Kennan understood his customers.

That’s the difference between understanding and knowing.

Reputation: what is it good for?

We focus too much on the value of reputation at the expense of its purpose.

Business leaders increasingly recognise the importance of reputation. But is there too great a focus on the value of a good reputation, instead of asking: a good reputation for what?

Shareholder value skew

Many of the metrics that seek to measure the monetary value of reputation base their models on market capitalisation. This is not dissimilar to the way brand equity is measured. The problem is not only that reputation equity metrics are over a decade late to the party, but a number of research papers point to the deficiencies of focusing on shareholder value for the long term performance of a business.

Shareholder value, when coupled with quarterly reporting, incentivises quick wins over long-term performance. This means firms with large reputation equity values, might be artificially overcooked and see sharp falls in the future. Shareholder value also focuses reputation studies on publicly listed companies and, particularly, US stocks because of the large data sets available about them. This skews our understanding of reputation to one type of company listed in one part of the world. We end up with a very US-centric outlook.

Value, purpose and direction

Reputation is often referred to as a strategic business asset, however, if something is truly strategic, you need to know more about it than its monetary value or whether it is ‘good’. You need to know which factors affect it, where it helps your business, where it’s a hindrance and how it can be deployed advantageously.

London’s black cab drivers have a good reputation. Their vehicles are iconic the world over and they know London intimately. Their great reputation for getting people across the city quickly hasn’t stopped them being Uber’d by a cheaper, on-demand rival whose drivers have satnavs.

Meanwhile, the dabbawalas of Mumbai, who equally have a fantastic global reputation and are also known for getting things across a city quickly, are now working in partnership with Flipkart, an Indian online retailer, to deliver online purchases across Mumbai.

In both examples, the group in question has a good reputation. However, what they have a good reputation for and the context within which they operate mean that while one group sees eroding incomes, the other is growing into new roles.


As we see disruption across a number of business sectors, reputation has become one of the few protectable and transferable assets companies have. However, to fully capitalise on your reputation you need to understand its drivers.

Tata Group, the Indian conglomerate, has a reputation for hands off ownership, trusting management and investing in the companies it buys. Its purchase of Jaguar Land Rover saw Tata enter the luxury segment of the automotive market when its previous sector experience was largely limited to manufacturing and selling very basic trucks and buses almost solely for the Indian market.

Jaguar Land Rover has grown strongly under Tata’s ownership following years of anaemic growth under previous owners Ford; a company that on paper had the experience and scale to grow the Jaguar Land Rover brand.

Tata went through extensive discussions with suppliers, union representatives and government officials to reassure them of its plans. Its reputation helped the firm buy its way into a new sector in which it has subsequently built a strong market position.

Strategic view

Reputation can be strategically important and it’s right that chief executives are increasingly showing awareness of this. However, we should move beyond discussions of good or bad when talking about reputation and stop trying to construct value metrics derived from shareholder value.

Only by understanding what companies have a reputation for and the context within which they operate can we provide truly strategic advice on business issues.

This post was originally published here at

Consultancy is a luxury good

The marketing of consulting services needs to move beyond pens, pamphlets and parties.

“We need to be talking to the c-suite.”

“We should to be advising on strategy, that’s where we can add the most value.”

“Prospects should view us as providing consultancy, not just delivering services.”

Phrases like these are said in the boardrooms of almost all service businesses. But how can they be achieved?

Whether it’s accountants trying to expand from audits, or law firms pushing to move beyond drafting contracts, everyone’s got their eyes on growth and the larger fees that come from consulting.

The problem is that while audits need to be conducted and contracts need to be drafted, consulting isn’t a practical, day-to-day business need. Companies have to want it.

So how, in the eyes of your clients, do you move from the supplier of services to the provider of advice?

The answer is to learn from the business sector that is the ultimate embodiment of want over need: luxury.


Luxury marketing is all about the brand. Having defined its mission, vision and values, a company has a framework for creating a consistent experience for everyone it comes in contact with.

Everything from your marketing strategy to the way you answer the phone can be defined consistently and simply if you have a strong brand. To some, ensuring a consistent approach to details may seem excessive, but anyone in luxury will tell you it’s the details that count. If you want to deliver a truly consistent customer experience, you need a brand framework through which you choose the details.


Another hallmark of luxury is that not everyone can have it. For consulting firms, this has two very specific applications.

The first is that your customers need to feel exclusive. Small gatherings, hard to access venues or tightly controlled attendance are key. Yes, it’s a little cutthroat but people like to feel special.

The second is that you cannot do everything. You can’t cover every sector and every specialism. If you do, then you’re not luxury, you’re mass market.

What don’t you do?

Indeed, being mass market really is the crux of the problem for most firms. Partners and directors want big fees but are often uncertain when deciding what their firm does and, crucially, what it doesn’t do. A well-defined brand can help work through that problem. It’s the first step in starting those c-suite conversations.

This article was originally published here at

Mediocrity carved in stone

The first image conjured up by Dickens in Great Expectations is of the main character, Pip, at his parents’ grave, imagining what they were like based upon the inscriptions and the shapes of the letters on their tombstone. If future Labour party campaign managers were to look solely at Ed Miliband’s pledge stone when judging their predecessors, I suspect they would not form a favourable opinion.


Politicians love a metaphor. Other than avoiding answering a question entirely, metaphors are their favourite rhetorical tool. They constantly talk of “paying off the credit card bill” or “fixing the roof while the sun shines”. Taking big concepts and communicating them clearly and simply is essential in getting your message across. Businesses should learn from this.

Ed’s stone, however is a cautionary tale. By having his pledges carved in stone Ed Miliband has made his metaphor too literal. Like almost all metaphors, when taken literally, they fall apart. Having pledges etched into stone is a grand gesture that screams, “trust me!” And one of the first things most copywriters learn is that when you tell people to trust you, they tend to be wary.


The message implied by the gesture is terrible, but it’s made worse by the words used. The language is vague and the pledges are subjective. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he did so with Commandments that were simple, mainly objective and bold. You know exactly where you are with “Thou shalt not kill”, however, “Controls on immigration” isn’t exactly a zinger.

The use of vague language is inexcusable when we know that Labour’s campaign team can do better. In fact, they have done much better in this election. Just two weeks ago they released this poster stating that Labour would recruit 20,000 more nurses:


It’s a clear, direct and objective pledge. People understand it and it can be measured. Somehow, this boldness got watered down when it came to chiselling some words into stone. It was changed to the nice but prosaic “An NHS with the time to care”. Who cares for people in hospitals? Nurses. What do you need more of if you want people to feel they’re getting good care? Nurses. So why not go with the clear pledge? It’s on a poster and has been shared across the web. It’s already out there. Reiterate it.

Businesses can take two lessons about communicating effectively from this campaign blunder: don’t stretch metaphors too far; and be clear and direct because vague messages just blend into the ether.

This article was originally published at

A list of thoughts from my first year in business

Evolving Influence launched a year ago. I’ve penned a list of thoughts that have circled in my mind as I’ve reflected on what has been a very lively year.

It’s an unordered list but not an unstructured one. I’ve broken it out into sets of four, but it’s not a poem. At best, it’s a thoughtfully formed list.

Relationships matter
The world is a friendly place
Lots of people will find time to give you advice
You have to do the work yourself

Principles matter
Trust yourself
Be honest with yourself
Know what you aren’t

Ideas are best shared
Ideas are ten a penny
Good ideas are a pound a punnet
Ideas made real are rare treasures

Winning business is exciting
Being scared is exciting
Turning down business is liberating
Only do good work

The cut and thrust builds self-confidence
Don’t believe the hype
The cut and thrust is bruising
Do not despair

Everyone wants good things for you
People are willing you to succeed
There’s no shortage of cheerleaders
You have to do the work yourself

This list was originally published at

Why we joined the Creative Industries Federation

The New Year has brought with it the usual lists of major trends in marketing for the coming year. By and large, the lists are interesting, thoughtful and likely, on the whole, to be accurate. What these lists do not contain, however, is anything with eternal relevance. In marketing, one of the few things that will be as relevant in 1,000 years as it is today is creativity.

I first learned of the Creative Industries Federation in a newspaper article about its launch. An organisation set up to promote the UK’s creative industries sounded like a very good thing indeed, so I looked it up and requested more information. The organisation seemed to have such a clear idea of its purpose that, having only read the website and exchanged an email or two, I signed up my firm.

When I sit with a blank sheet of paper, I possess neither the arrogance nor brilliance to presume I can fill it with creativity entirely on my own.

Successful marketing needs real creativity. You cannot build brands and businesses on fluffy thoughts and lazy ideas. The question is: where do creative ideas come from?

Well, when I sit down with a blank sheet of paper in front of me, I possess neither the arrogance nor brilliance to presume that I can fill it with exceptional creativity sourced entirely from my own thoughts. I draw upon the vast creativity of the artists whose work I can access online and in galleries, at concerts and exhibitions. I speak with colleagues and friends. I stretch ideas to absurd proportions. I leave them to fester and see how they develop. I go through many creative processes but sitting at the very core of it all is the creativity of others.

Let me share a practical example. Back when I was a student, I was writing an essay on immigration. I struggled with bringing clarity to the ideas I was trying to express. At the time, Institute of Contemporary Arts had an exhibition that touched some of the issues I was writing about. I went along and was particularly struck by one work, by an artist whose name I sadly cannot recall, where a light bulb had been taken from a supermarket in Germany and placed in a Korean store in the US. There are a number of immigration narratives stitched through that piece; in particular, it makes a wonderful point about the unseen benefits of immigration very simply and clearly. It helped me greatly with my work. I’ve loitered in galleries ever since.

Moreover, many marketing specialists have arts-related backgrounds. I’ve worked with designers who started out in fine art and copywriters who are poets. It’s rare to meet a creative specialist who doesn’t have a side project or hobby. The number of screenplays, novels and short stories quietly saved on the servers or PR firms and ad agencies is astounding.

A creatively rich environment is essential for marketing. We must protect and promote the arts and creativity of the UK if our marketing and advertising potential is to be fulfilled. So, why did Evolving Influence join the Creative Industries Federation? It seeks to secure the future of a business critical resource.

This article was originally published here at

The unquantified self

Beta metrics don’t hep us know ourselves, they merely provide us with known unknowns

One hundred years ago someone used a ruler and drew a line an inch long on a piece of paper. Yesterday, some found that piece of paper and, using a ruler, measured that line and found it to be an inch long. This didn’t really happen but the point stands: an inch is an inch.

Hypothetically, if a year ago, I had a Klout score of 50 and earned 2,500 Nike Fuel Points and today I have a Klout score of 55 and earn 2,000 Fuel Points, am I more influential and less active?

The correct answer is: I don’t know.

In that time both Klout and Nike have recalibrated how they calculate their metrics. Your scores from last year aren’t being measured on the same scale. A fuel point isn’t a fuel point. A Klout score isn’t a Klout score.

Now, of course, we want the most accurate metrics we can get. However, part of the appeal of metrics is that they help us understand how things have changed over time. Am I more influential? Am I more active? What is the trend? None of these questions can be answered if metrics aren’t consistent.

Wearable technology has emerged as the big trend at this year’s CES. These devices will capture a lot of data about us and a considerable portion of the captured data will be presented back encouraging us to improve ourselves but behind the hype many of these metrics will be no better than your own gut instinct.

So wear the bracelets, track your scores and enjoy the positive communities built around them, but remember that all you really know is that you don’t know. These beta metrics are Rumsfeldian ‘known unknowns’.

Reputation vs. Brand

Much is written about the rise and rise of reputation. I took a look at Google Trends to see how popular reputation was in relation to brand. It turns out brand is much, much more searched for.

The below chart shows the findings. I set the parameters to searches in the UK focused around business and industrial issues.

This isn’t an insight or a significant finding, but it is interesting and worth being aware of.

made with ChartBoot

A huge thank you must go out to @JrAthletics for helping set up the plugin for the above chart. Please do follow @JrAthletics on Twitter and check out the website