Managing brand and reputation in a digital age

We’ve gone a long way in how we manage corporate brands and companies’ reputations, but reality seems to have outpaced that evolution. How can corporate communicators catch up?

A couple of years ago one of Europe’s largest banks faced an interesting situation: on one hand its communication department was battling to mitigate the reputational fallout of its embroilment in the Panama Papers.

On the other hand, its marketing department was putting the final touches on the intended rollout of its rebranding campaign under the tagline “This Is Banking”.

It wasn’t until an external consultant pointed to the absurdity of the situation that the rebranding campaign was aborted. While it might sound absurd to outsiders, similar situations happen on a regular basis at many large companies across the globe, representing some key problems in how corporate brands and reputations are managed today.

When challenges become obstacles 

To begin with, it is still typically the case that a company’s reputation is managed by the corporate communication department while its corporate brand is owned by the marketing department. This splitting of a concept that is essentially one and the same (both reputation and brand are ultimately defined by people’s perceptions of the company) is only the tip of the iceberg: delivering on the company’s brand and building its reputation are in fact the result of efforts made by many other departments, like HR, Strategy, CSR, and the company’s operations across its business areas.

The siloed nature of a typical large company has been talked about for years, but it hasn’t improved much when it comes to brand and reputation management. It’s true that many companies have merged their marketing and communication departments, but even these companies tend to view brand as a pure customer-related concept and reputation as a stakeholder-related one – despite the fact that in the outside world such lines dividing stakeholder groups have been blurring for years.

Better collaboration and regular exchange between communications and marketing at the above-mentioned bank would surely have prevented a case of near-disaster by rebranding amidst a reputational crisis in the most inappropriate way.

Another problem exemplified by this story is the lack of relevant and timely data to inform decision-making in this field. While marketing departments tend to be fairly advanced in the use of data, corporate communication departments are still relatively new in this game – having typically little data available, or data that is limited to the quantification of output: for example, media mentions, website traffic and the like. While these data are important, they fail to quantify the impact of activities, and therefore cannot contribute to assessing effectiveness and planning actions going forward.

"While marketing departments tend to be fairly advanced in the use of data, corporate communication departments are still relatively new in this game."

Even in cases where impact-related data are considered, those are either focused on social media only, in which case they miss large parts of the relevant stakeholder universe, or they are collected infrequently, and as a result – are often utilised too late to be relevant. If the bank’s corporate communication department in this case had real-time data on stakeholder perceptions and how they changed as a result of the Panama Papers revelations, and if such data were regularly shared with and used by other departments such as marketing, it is likely that decisions would have been better informed.

Beware the digital age

In today’s world, most business processes are viewed and managed with the aid of analytics, and brand and reputation management is no different.x

Holger Schubert

Holger Schubert is head of brand management at Airbus. With a background in design and identity business, Holger has worked in aerospace for the last 17 years, with leading brand communications and advertising roles.

Shahar Silbershatz

Having previously run the EMEA consulting practice of Reputation Institute, Shahar is now CEO of corporate brand and reputation specialists Caliber ( He has more than 20 years of experience in this field working out of New York, London and Copenhagen