I want you to imagine I’ve got a set of flash cards – photographs of people. I’m flipping them over and asking your first impression. Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Barrack Obama, Britney Spears, a famous sportsman, a super-model. I’m prepared to bet that you have an opinion about every single one of them. Good, bad, sneaky, conceited, untrustworthy, wasteful and so on. Have you met them? Of course not! Well, I saw Julia Gillard from a distance once when visited our local shopping centre.
Here’s my point – pretty much all of us – apart from that rare breed of non-judgemental folk – have opinions on people – usually based on what we have read, seen or heard via the media or impressions based on the opinions of others.
The same thing applies to companies and organisations. The nature of the human condition is that we are quick to pass judgement on people and organisations – often on the flimsiest of criteria. There’s no question in my mind that when it comes to people physical appearance plays a huge part (there’s a reason why the people who model clothes and appear in the David Jones catalogue are attractive).
Then there’s how people speak, the words they use, their general demeanour. And once the crowd decides a person (or a company) is cool or crass, the label tends to stick.
That’s why branding matters to companies – because it provides the tools by which people can quickly form opinions – hopefully positive opinions. Now of course the ultimate driver of brand and reputation is how a person or company behaves and treats people. But the nature of world means that every day consumers are confronted with thousands of brand flash cards. The decisions are instantaneous. These people have no time or inclination to read your 20 page strategy document. They will usually sum you up in one word. That’s it – one word. So, ultimately brand and reputation strategy is about being utterly focussed on one very salient message. How would your company fare in a flash card test?