It’s not uncommon to see the words reputation and brand substituted for one another in a manner not dissimilar to the way politicians use the words deficit and debt interchangeably. Like debt and deficit, brand and reputation are linked, but they aren’t the same thing.
By far the best definition of a brand that I’ve heard was given by Interbrand’s Rita Clifton who described a brand as the “organising framework” for an organisation. It is central to an organisation and guides everything from the logo and the colour of the reception sofa, to how its products are developed and the way its employees interact with customers, suppliers and one another. The key point is that an organisation owns its brand – it defines and controls it.
Reputation is a different beast. Reputation is how everyone who comes into contact with an organisation, and those who have never come into contact with it, perceives that organisation. Reputation is owned by people not organisations. Reputation is individual. My perception of a company is different from your perception of that company.
Reputation can be influenced, perceptions can be changed over time, but a company can never actually own its reputation.