2015: What lies ahead?


FOR those of us who are self-declared and unashamed corporate reputation voyeurs, 2014 was one Ball of a Year!

We saw how South African brands sleep-walked their way through a changed world of informed, connected, militant and expressive consumers and other stakeholders. The overall verdict is a mixed bag of results. Some got it right most of the time while, equally, others got it wrong most of the time.

In the middle, there were those who seemed totally inconsistent, like moving targets, leaving us confused as to whether their reputation management regimes were simply a mish-mash of trial and error guesswork or something else. Strangely, both private sector and public sector brands were found wanting in this basket of confusion.

It’s hard to say which of the two sectors should walk away with the 'Mampara of the Year' award because, while we choose our private sector brands and that our freedom of choice is very constricted when it comes to public sector brands, we need all of them to help us navigate our world.  

But that was last year. We should be optimistic and hope that 2015 will be different, that South African brands and others who originate from elsewhere but operate here have learned from their own mistakes and those of others and will do things differently in order to retain or win our hearts and minds.

However, this is South Africa in 2015, a year before local government elections scheduled for 2016. We anticipate some misbehaviour from our political brands. There will be opportunism, mud-slinging and political point scoring in all directions as several of them, especially the main ones, do all they can to attract voter attention by highlighting what they consider to be their greatest achievements while exposing the unwashed underbellies of their rivals.

Voters are also consumers
In doing this, even political brands need to understand that South African voters are also consumers who are increasingly savvy and discerning. The standard appeal on the basis of emotion and historical allegiance will no longer suffice to secure undying support and attract new followers, especially from younger, newer voters whose points of reference differ radically from those of older politicians who lead the parties.

Political brand reputation is an increasingly valuable criterion used by voters – especially in urban areas – when deciding which party will benefit from their valuable “X”. Reported abuses will contribute to damaging goodwill; positive responsiveness to voter concerns will enhance goodwill.   

The private sector has had its share of ‘mampara-like’ conduct. One hopes that corporate reputation managers in this sector will also have observed the conduct of their peers and noted their mistakes and not repeat them in 2015. Importantly, they should understand that reputation management should no longer be a reactive function, deployed only when trouble starts knocking at the door.

The need to conduct regular environmental scans of the industry in which one’s organisation operates has never been more vital for business survival. If done properly, such scans enable organisations to spot potential threats while they’re still hundreds of miles away and to either avoid collisions or turn threats into opportunities.

This should be coupled with reputation risk assessment within the organisation itself, aimed at identifying weaknesses before they lead to crisis management; like I often say, the last place any self-respecting brands wants to find itself.

Eskom, SAA in a class of their own

Almost sitting in a class of their own, brands such as Eskom, South African Airways, PetroSA, the South African Post Office, the Hawks, the National Prosecutions Authority, national parliament, the SABC and the South African Revenue Service ended 2014 in the line of media and public scrutiny, all for the wrong reasons. They have a chance to do the right thing in 2015 and work on their damaged reputation.        
Since increasing numbers of brands are becoming aware of the importance of reputation - even if many still get it wrong - those who want to be frontrunners should employ innovative approaches in managing their brand and corporate reputation to stand out.

This means that they should invest more resources in corporate reputation-enhancing activities, rather than relying on back foot defence when there is trouble. The more enhanced a reputation is, the more readily stakeholders will forgive and give a brand another chance. They will be quicker to abandon it if experience has not given them sufficient assurance that mistakes are rare and always handled with transparent professionalism.   

Over the next weeks, we shall look at how individual organisations conduct themselves - with a focus on how brand and corporate reputation impacts on shareholder value, and how they compare to their peers here and elsewhere around the world.      

* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley. Views expressed are his own.

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