Archive for the Reputation Category

Aspirational Reputation – Institutional Inspiration

Aspirational Reputation – Institutional Inspiration

Businesses have a challenge. Fortunately, they can fix it and increase their competitive advantage at the same time. The solution is to create an aspirational reputation for your company. Simply help your stakeholders believe in the great potential of your business and you will both benefit. Stakeholders who are enthused about your business will help it thrive. Likewise, you can help your stakeholders aspire to greater things by connecting them with the aspirations of your business. You can accomplish all this through authenticity and by creating institutional inspiration.

institutional inspiration

The Challenge

The challenge is that many American’s have lost confidence in a better life for themselves and their children. This has been reflected in recent elections and is felt despite remarkably low unemployment. Interestingly, you can see this in many other parts of the world, as well. This is both a societal problem and a real concern for businesses.

A disaffected population can constrain the economy and increase costs to society. Concurrently, disaffected populations are gravitating toward stronger political leadership to guide and protect them in more difficult times. This phenomenon was seen in the rise of fascism following the disruption of World War I and during the global depression of the 1930s. Significantly, some analysts see a parallel in the current dislocation of the tech revolution and globalization.

With large segments of the population feeling abandoned or even betrayed by elites, the risks to businesses are real. As businesses respond to growing technological and competitive challenges, the gulf between business elites and the have-nots widens. Businesses need to bridge this gap before they become the target.

Why Business Should Act

If the problem is frustration and resignation, the best defense may be to provide opportunities worthy of enthusiasm. Remember, businesses need consumer confidence, an engaged workforce and enthusiastic stakeholders to do well. Fortunately, developing an aspirational reputation builds enthusiasm and makes stakeholders want to associate with your business. The key is to advance institutional inspiration in communication programs and as a priority for both leaders and employees.

aspirational reputation

Most businesses do much better when public sentiment is positive. This is particularly evident when sentiment about an individual business is favorable. When a business encourages its stakeholders to see the business as a positive force that improves conditions, it builds an aspirational reputation. This is a reputation that facilitates a positive outlook and a belief that association with the business makes those associated with it better.

Aspirational Taglines

Advertising can be a very effective tool for capturing the sentiment of an aspirational reputation. Consider these slogans and you should see what we mean:

  • We bring good things to life
  • Be all you can be
  • I think, therefore IBM
  • Just Do It
  • Think Different
  • We Try Harder
  • The Few. The Proud. The Marines.
  • Don’t be Evil

Of course, there’s much more to a company’s reputation than a slogan or tagline, but they help illustrate the concept. In addition, when a company with an aspirational reputation moves on from a specific slogan that can also indicate a shift in focus that will ultimately change the culture and reputation. Some might argue that GE dropping We Bring Good Things to Life coincided with a challenging period of change for the company.

In most cases, great taglines come long after a fundamental philosophy and culture are formulated by leaders and influencers. In some cases, the actual terms are formulated by leaders and influencers.  For instance, Thomas J. Watson first used the slogan Think in 1911 before IBM was formed and three-quarters of a century before the slogan “I think, therefore IBM” was coined.

Impact of Aspirational Reputation

Similarly, Google’s Don’t be evil manifesto was put forward nearly two decades ago by influential employees. This employee engagement is consistent with its more open and participatory style. Of course, some might argue whether the manifesto is controlling, but you can still see how it affects decisions. Interestingly, their willingness to forgo expediency and short-term gains in the early years may have helped deliver long-term success for Google.

These examples reflect the aspirational reputations of world-class companies, but they are important for emerging companies too. Ultimately, finding ways to inspire stakeholders can yield great value. Motivated employees are more productive, and often more innovative and engaged. Investors are more enthusiastic about the company and less likely to create distractions by finding fault. Customers find products more desirable and show greater brand loyalty. Communities welcome those who bring opportunity and elevate the region’s status.

Institutional Inspiration

How do you inspire stakeholders? Often it starts with the leader of the enterprise. Leaders inspire in many ways and the choices often reflect the leader’s individual style. They can inspire through principles, actions, ideas or even art. If that inspiration causes stakeholders to see the potential greatness of the enterprise, then that will begin an aspirational reputation. The leader may be essential to the effort but is rarely able to do it alone.

institutional inspiration aspirational reputation

Even a cursory study of change management demonstrates the importance of coordinated and consistent efforts to promote change. Since communication and motivation are so important, here are ten steps to help establish institutional inspiration:

  1. CEO presentations to all employees and various stakeholder groups, through video, blog, speech or announcement
  2. CEO discussions with executives to reinforce messages and secure buy-in
  3. Management team presentations to their reports and group meetings
  4. Town hall meetings
  5. Stories in internal publications, video or intranet
  6. Messaging in public speeches, analyst and community meetings
  7. Incorporate messages in web and promotional materials
  8. Consider updating boilerplate, vision and values
  9. Awards and recognition for those who demonstrate the inspirational change
  10. Incorporate in advertising and branding

Comprehensive Aspirational Reputation Program

Reinforcing the message across several channels is important in creating institutional inspiration, which will lead to an aspirational reputation. Furthermore, to resonate with audiences and seem authentic, you should go further than repetition. For instance, appeal to different styles by incorporating several genres into your communication programs. Corporate communications, advertising, and marketing can be important partners in these efforts.

Imagine the president of your company speaking from the heart about your organization’s potential for greatness and then positively reinforcing this with people throughout the enterprise. Now add uplifting theme music such as Classical Gas and people will start associating your positive messages and the uplifting music. Now create visual design and carefully researched slogans that reinforce culturally authentic messaging. The result could be a truly aspirational reputation that makes stakeholders want to be associated with your company.

Authenticity Yields Authentic Reputation

Authenticity Yields Authentic Reputation

Authenticity allows us to like what we like and dismiss what we don’t, without value judgments. It can generate enormous brand loyalty. It has enriched social media influencers. For some, it’s the single most influential factor in determining stakeholder support. Authenticity is that secret sauce that conveys the consistent image that people rely upon. When combined with the real qualities that people attribute to businesses, they create the very powerful force of an authentic reputation.

To illustrate these concepts, we’ve created a story about authentic reputation and its importance to business success. When we finish we will offer five keys to protecting authenticity. We will use two fictional companies and their leaders. Both companies had great brands and their success was envied by many. They each cultivated authentic reputations that ensured strong stakeholder support. The companies, Real Products and Unlimited Energy, were at the threshold of global success.

authenticity authentic reputation

The Calculating Model

Real Products was a closely held company that had methodically built itself from a cleaning contractor to a major conglomerate. The CEO of Real Products was cold and calculating. He brilliantly used data analytics to his advantage. While fully capable of winning in direct competition, he often discretely maneuvered to co-opt the competition.

He used elaborate structures to win over stakeholders. While customers, employees, and communities might not get the best deal from Real Products, it was much better than if they crossed him. He wanted to effectively control his business lines globally. Of course, he cared about money, but power and control were stronger drivers. He had an authentic reputation for winning through careful analysis and calculation. Investors and other stakeholders supported him, so they would not lose to Real Products.

The Bold Model

Unlimited Energy had been the most popular brand in the world with operations in every country. For generations, it was the biggest, best and most widely admired corporation, but over time it faltered. Activist investors gained control and brought in new management.

For this job, Unlimited Energy chose a bold, brash and supremely confident CEO. He had radically transformed several other companies. While a couple of those companies had to be broken up and sold, all his ventures enriched his investors. This new CEO promised to restore Unlimited Energy to global dominance and make all investors wealthy in the process.

Predictably, Unlimited Energy’s reputation morphed into one closer to the supreme self-confidence of their CEO. Investors flocked to Unlimited Energy’s can do, take no prisoners attitude. Unlimited Energy gained the authentic reputation as the company that would always come out on top. It wasn’t enough just to win; Unlimited Energy must dominate.

authentic reputation

The Strategy

Real Products and Unlimited Energy were the most effective competitors in the markets that were open to them. They were first or second in every market. When one of them wasn’t in a market, the other was usually twice as big as the next competitor.

The CEO of Unlimited Energy realized that together they could easily pick off the more profitable parts of their smaller competitors. He decided they should talk rather than fight head-to-head and squeeze each other’s margins. A preliminary discussion between the two CEOs was set while they were both at Davos.

To simplify the story let’s assume they weren’t covered by the Sherman Antitrust Act or other regulations. The activist investors were all crowing about how Unlimited Energy would dominate even these preliminary talks.

The Collaboration

When they met, the Real Products CEO was true to his nature. He had analyzed every aspect of the possibilities and developed a comprehensive plan for absorbing 60% of their competitors. The remaining 40% was consolidated under several allied businesses, to soften opposition.

The plan doubled the business volumes for Real Products and Unlimited Energy. In addition, they agreed not to compete on price. The cumulative effect would triple earnings in two years.  The plan far exceeded the Unlimited Energy CEO’s wildest expectations and he immediately agreed.

authentic reputation

Since they were already at a global forum, they announced the agreement that afternoon. The additional publicity would reward the activist investors and improve the companies’ ability to raise capital for the acquisitions.

At the announcement, the Unlimited Energy CEO tried to cement the deal by praising his colleague. He told participants he was humbled by the brilliant strategy and grateful that the Real Products CEO wanted to work with Unlimited Energy. “Our stockholders will never again have to worry about their investments,” he said. “Real Products has ensured extraordinary returns.”

The Unlimited Energy investors who prided themselves on dominating the market were furious when they saw their CEO defer to his biggest competitor. Then they figured out that the remaining 40% would be owned by companies under Real Products’ control. Instead of an equal deal, their CEO had been hoodwinked into ceding control of 60% of the market to their competitor. They dumped their Unlimited Energy stock and the darling of Wall Street became a paper tiger without any authenticity.

Importance of Authenticity

The lesson is simple. Authenticity must be part of your nature. You need to be honest, open and consistent about this. If you try to deceive, it will be discovered.

In our story, the Unlimited Energy CEO presented himself as a businessman who was very confident in his own ability to control situations. So long as people’s experiences supported that image, it represented an authentic reputation. The challenge came when there was a disconnect. When people saw a deferential demeanor in the announcement it undermined their confidence in his ability to control.

authentic reputation

Authenticity is particularly important in crisis situations. In crisis communications, audiences can be hypersensitive and critical. If they find any inconsistencies in your behavior, they may dwell on them until they become insurmountable problems.

Five Ways to Protect Authentic Reputation

How do you avoid the inconsistencies that undermine your authentic reputation? If you can remain true to five principles of behavior you should be able to maintain your authentic reputation. They are:

  1. Honesty – You and your business should be honest about your true nature from the start. If your reputation still fits your character today, continued honesty should ring true.
  2. Integrity – Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Likewise, stand up for your beliefs. If you find that your organization is changing, then address it as it occurs. Don’t wait for a crisis to advise stakeholders.
  3. Transparency – This doesn’t mean releasing proprietary or confidential information, but there should be a reason to keep information confidential. For other things that can impact stakeholders, transparency should be the norm.
  4. Values – The company’s values should be meaningful and influence behaviors. Use values to guide your behaviors and your authentic reputation will naturally be closer to your real priorities.
  5. Compassion – While it’s not a requirement for authenticity, compassion affects others’ perceptions. If you demonstrate compassion for others, they will be much more likely to show the same for you. If you want to get the benefit of the doubt, you need to give it.

Authenticity strengthens your company’s reputation. Remain true to your values and nurture consistent behaviors, even when it’s inconvenient. This will yield an authentic reputation that will serve you well when you need it most.

AI Reputation Stitching – The Unexpected Threat

AI Reputation Stitching – The Unexpected Threat

If something could destroy your professional reputation or your business in the next few months or years, would you try to avoid it or at least take steps to minimize the damage? If the answer is yes, let’s discuss AI Reputation Stitching, the new vulnerability in corporate and personal reputations from advances in artificial intelligence. Everything from proprietary corporate information to previously discreet or private actions and words are now vulnerable to discovery from numerous sources. Worse still, this AI reputation intrusion is making it possible to stitch together bits from thousands of sources to directly counter perceptions and reputations you may have spent decades building.

AI reputation stitching

Why AI Reputation Stitching is relevant

If you’re not already interested, let me ask these questions. Are you conversant about artificial intelligence or AI? Are you an emergency management, reputation management or corporate communications professional? Do you have several days of emergency supplies or a hurricane evacuation plan? Do you practice risk management or even take it to the next level as a corporate crisis prepper? Are you at all concerned about corporate or personal privacy? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you have the capacity to prepare for and change the worst outcomes from this unexpected AI stitching threat. Please keep reading.

While advances in artificial intelligence have driven its acronym, AI, into common usage, most of us are more focused on the curiosities of AI vs. human competitions in chess, Go or Jeopardy than the implications of how it will change our lives. Watson’s recent debate demonstrated how the AI platform could study the issues in real time while the debate was underway and successfully match the carefully developed arguments of an expert human debater. Similar AI capabilities can be used to focus AI on sifting through enormous amounts of data and quickly stitching together the pieces to form an accurate picture of you or your company that can serve as an AI reputation alternative to the organic reputation you worked so hard to build.

While this threat has not fully emerged, except in focused and rarified environments, it will likely confront more of us in the coming months and years. We call it Reputation Stitching. As these emerging artificial intelligence capabilities develop into advanced AI reputation stitching, there is an opportunity to proactively minimize damage and even improve the prospects for positive results. The challenge is what to do to anticipate and overcome our all too human personal and corporate flaws.

artificial intelligence

Is AI stitching real?

First, let’s consider a couple of recently published developments in AI stitching. One is the impressive and intriguing machine learning advances by Google in their still imperfect photo stitch capabilities. The other is the enormously promising efforts in healthcare data stitching that are still far shy of their potential.  Despite their flaws and limitations, the potential of these AI stitching pursuits makes it clear that advances are being rapidly achieved and they will transform our capabilities, reputation risks, and understanding of the world.

Google’s AI stitching to produce professional-caliber photos shows the capability is real and can touch everyday life. When healthcare stitching is widely adopted it will fundamentally change the precision and effectiveness of healthcare. Also, since patient privacy is guarded under HIPAA, there will likely be fewer risks than in some of the other emerging AI stitching capabilities, but the consequences could be enormous. With the continued prevalence of hacking and data theft, even HIPAA and the best efforts of everyone in healthcare may not be enough to completely secure this personal information in every instance.

reputation stitching through AI

Reputation Trends and Risks

Now, look at several recent examples of personal and corporate reputation damage from actions taken more than a decade ago. Consider how the #MeToo movement has encouraged people to come forward even years later and the impact this has had on powerful people such as Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and Kevin Spacey. Likewise, dedicated investigations have yielded prosecution and litigation for actions allegedly taken by Paul Manafort and  ExxonMobil more than a decade ago. These examples show how personal recollections and dedicated prosecution can find decades-old evidence that is still compelling enough to destroy reputations today.

Now if you extend these developments with our thirst for sensationalism, the explosion of surprisingly credible fabricated content (fake news), and the extraordinary threat of weaponized media you should have more than enough to keep you up at night. In this world, the potential for real or fabricated information to seriously damage reputation is enormous!


AI reputation stitching

Warren Buffett probably wasn’t thinking about reputation stitching when he said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it,” but he certainly anticipated the consequences if artificial intelligence uncovers and profiles the sins of the past.  A business’ social license to operate is intertwined with its reputation and once you lose one, you will likely lose the other.  This is the reason we are so concerned about the emerging risk of AI reputation stitching.

Sources of Data for AI Reputation Stitching

The same capabilities that can process overwhelming volumes of data and identify the threads that result in an accurate diagnosis and treatment in healthcare data stitching will soon be more broadly available to create AI driven reputation stitching insights into professionals and businesses. Just look at the Enron dataset of nearly half a million emails from over 150 Enron executives that FERC released into the public domain in 2002. These have already been extensively studied and dramatically contributed to the development of AI stitching capabilities for extracting meaningful data from our communications.

artificial intelligence AI stitching

The extraordinary public insights into these executives, some of whom were only guilty of being collateral damage in the Enron fiasco, have likely changed their lives forever. Now add the disclosures about Facebook data being freely shared with researchers and foreign businesses, along with the truly extraordinary volume of data available about our search histories, messages, movements and conversations. You may see how stitching together even a fraction of that information could be used to irreparably damage reputations.

If you find this hard to believe, that’s understandable. Our brains are conditioned to put things in the context of our past experiences and great departures are often difficult to fathom. So, let’s just consider how most personal devices are set to track individuals’ movements and how video surveillance is becoming ubiquitous. Between security cameras, dash cams and our penchant for recording life on our cell phones and then transferring it to social media, there are countless images recorded. With advances in facial and even smile recognition software, we are not far from tracking movements and then identifying what people are doing when they are at those specific locations.

AI reputation

In fact, this is already done with greater frequency than you might imagine, but it is still somewhat limited by the current resources needed to sift through the enormous volumes of data. With the exponential advances in machine learning, we will soon be able to process great volumes of data with enormous efficiency and minimal human involvement. With our new world of artificial intelligence, the advent of AI reputation stitching will soon be upon us.

What You Can Do

So, why are we telling you this? Do we get some perverted pleasure in alarming people? No, it’s because the world of reputation management is about to experience transformative change and you can reduce the risks to your professional and business reputation if you act now. Once AI stitching can decipher a large part of everything we’ve done, it will be nearly impossible to spin a story or manage your reputation without at least some people having the facts to counter the reality you are trying to present. We have long advised against spinning and manipulating information, but soon it may very easy to contradict your spin with compelling facts from reputation stitching.

The best defense will be for your business to consider its actions and behaviors, and proactively work to improve flaws it identifies. You may gain the benefit of the doubt and if you act before the issue is uncovered by others, you might avoid the matter altogether. Any action to address a problem is helpful, but government officials and the public are increasingly demanding that businesses identify their own problems and address them before someone else exposes them. So, act soon.

AI stitching assessment

Your first step should be to conduct a comprehensive vulnerability assessment.  This should be conducted by a third party, which will reduce the risk of bias or underweighting real issues. This vulnerability assessment can be as limited or expansive as you wish, covering media and social media reviews, executive background investigations, or interviews and additional investigation. If you decide to do this, we can walk you through how to protect confidentially and manage the process with appropriate sensitivity. Once you have identified the vulnerabilities, you will want to proactively utilize reputation management and crisis communications processes to work through the range of possible responses, develop a plan to address and message the issues, and take appropriate action.

Those who prioritize the future of their businesses and reputations will understand that any action will be far more effective if you work proactively before someone else uncovers an issue. To minimize the impact of reputation stitching, the time to act is now, before your AI reputation becomes the new reality.

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