The Responsibilities of Management Series, #11: Deliberately and Carefully Build, Strengthen, and Protect Your Organization’s Brand

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 18, Issue No. 4a
August 1, 2019

By Dan Coughlin


A Brand is a Reputation

Brand is a modern, fancy word for reputation.

If you wanted to hang out with a person in college, you would ask, “What’s the person’s reputation?” You were attracted to some people and repelled by others based on a little bit of information. As you got to know the person a little bit more, you would either be a little bit more attracted or a little bit more repelled.

If the person made a commitment to you or told you what he or she was all about, then you had an expectation in your mind. If that expectation was met, you trusted the person a bit more. If that expectation was not met, you trusted the person a bit less. And you told other people about this person, which enhanced or hurt the person’s reputation.

Reputation meant a lot.

You never own your reputation because it’s what other people think of you. You don’t own other people’s thoughts. Those thoughts exist inside the other person. The same is true with a brand. The organization doesn’t own the brand because it exists inside the minds of customers and potential customers.

A brand is the value a person thinks he or she is going to get when buying a certain product or service from a certain company. That expectation is either met, exceeded, or not met. In which case, the person’s trust in that brand either goes up or goes down. And then that person tells other people his or her thoughts about that brand.

This pattern is true for every single organization in the world. People either have an opinion about your products and services or they’ve never heard of them. Either way they have a thought about your brand, which might be that they’ve never heard of it. If they have heard about your products and services, they have an opinion, and they might very well share that opinion with other people.

Your job is to work in a very deliberate and careful way to build, strengthen, and protect the reputation that you want your organization to be known for.

The Six Steps to Build, Strengthen, and Protect Your Organization’s Brand

  1.  Define the people whom you want to sell value.
  2. Define the value you want to sell them.
  3. Commit to those people that you will deliver that value.
  4. Create and deliver the value you have committed to delivering.
  5. Get better at creating and delivering that value.
  6. Be very careful to protect your organization’s reputation regarding the value you deliver.

These six steps that we’re going to walk through in this article can be applied to a one-person business or to a 100,000-person business. They can be applied to a business that has not yet begun and to a 50-year-old business.

  1. Define the people whom you want to sell value.
  2. Define the value you want to sell them.Steps one and two set the stage for intentionally building a brand. Sometimes a company creates value and then it finds a market, and other times a company identifies a market and then creates value for those people. The order doesn’t matter, and both parts are equally important.Describe the people whom you want to sell value in as much detail as you can: geographical area, age, interests, roles, gender, industries, and/or any other factor that you think might be useful to define your desired customer group.This is important. Don’t just read that and move on. Actually write down a description of your desired customers. For me, it would be “business leaders who want to improve critically important results in a sustainable way.”

    Then write down the value you want to sell them. This value has to be seen as important by those people. This is where your empathy as an organization plays a tremendously important role. Only when you’ve really worked to understand what your desired customers are experiencing can you understand what they are thinking and feeling. As much as possible talk with these people, observe them, and step into their world.

    When you write down the value you want to sell don’t write down a product or service. Those are just the delivery mechanisms of the value. Please take out a blank sheet of paper. Write down 6-10 words or phrases that describe the value you want to be known for delivering.

    I’ll do this for my own business just to give you an example:

    Ideas, practical, understandable, relevant for achieving better results, collaborative, solution-oriented, personalized and customized to their situations, and applicable for people in any size organization anywhere in the world.

    Before you move on jot down 6-10 words or phrases that describe the value you want to sell to your desired customers.

    To build a strong brand, you need to occupy a space inside the minds of your desired customers. You need your organization to be thought of by these people as the number one or number two option for the value you want to be known for delivering.

  3. Commit to those people what value you will deliver to them. Once you know your audience and the value you want to deliver, write down what change you are trying to make for those people. If there is no change, why would they need to work with you?Write down what will be different for your customer as a result of working with your organization.After you’ve done that, communicate that commitment to your customers over and over and over. You won’t ever own your brand, but you can communicate often about what customers can expect to receive from your organization. In your messaging to customers weave in the 6-10 words or phrases that describe the value you want to be known for delivering.
  4. Create and deliver the value you have committed to delivering. When you deliver on your commitments, you begin to build a stronger brand. People trusted you enough to give you a try, and you delivered on your promises. As you do that over and over and over, your brand becomes stronger and stronger and stronger.This is the Operations of your business. Whenever people talk about Operations in a business, what they really are talking about is whatever they do to create and deliver the value customers expect to receive.
  5. Get better at creating and delivering that value. Don’t fall into the trap of going off on tangents. Stay focused on creating and delivering the value you have committed to delivering, and keep getting better at that creation and delivery. This can mean improving or changing your products, your services, your delivery, your speed and so on. It’s still within the same umbrella of the value that you promised to deliver. You’re just doing it better.
  6. Protect your organization’s reputation. I’m not talking about taking legal actions against outsiders. I’m mainly talking about protecting your organization’s brand from yourself and the other members of your organization. Mainly, this comes down to discipline and focus.There are two ways to hurt your organization’s brand.First, the behaviors of key people in the organization can damage the brand. Brand-ruining behaviors can usually be traced to sex, drugs, alcohol, greed, anger, jealousy, and/or revenge. In other words, the organization itself is moving along very nicely, but key individuals inside the organization behave in a way that ruins the reputation of the organization.The more closely the organization is identified with certain individuals, the more devastating their impact can be on the brand. It’s very important to talk about values and behaviors on an on-going basis. Make it as clear as you can as often as you can as to what is appropriate behavior, and make sure the message is clear to people at all levels in the organization.

    I encourage you to step back and ask yourself if a personal decision you’re making is worth damaging your organization’s brand. Sometimes it is if you think you’re doing the right thing, but oftentimes it’s not. Step back, reflect, and discern what you think you should do. Don’t rush into it.

    Second, decisions about the organization can damage the brand. This comes from the tendency to keep developing new products and services and adding them to the mix. I encourage you to be very careful not to add products or services that will confuse people as to what the value is they will receive from your organization. If you can build extensions that make sense to customers and connect with the value you want to be known for delivering, then you can strengthen your brand. However, if you fall into the trap of trying to make an organization that is everything for everybody, you will hurt your brand.

    I encourage you to put every new product idea and every new service idea through this filter, “Will this product/service strengthen our brand or weaken it?” If it doesn’t help your brand, I encourage you not to do it even if it helps your short-term revenue goals. Keep your brand pure, and it will attract more and more of the customers you want to work with.


Your organization’s brand is its reputation in the minds of your customers and prospects. Your organization’s reputation will either attract people to your organization, or repel them away. Just as culture is critical on the inside of your organization so is your brand critical on the outside of your organization.

Intentionally build your organization’s brand, strengthen it, and carefully protect it.