A new model for brand management

In a wired world, your reputation can be destroyed in hours. It's time for a new approach.

In a wired world, your reputation can be destroyed in hours. It's time for a new approach.

Once upon a time, a catastrophe claimed the reputations of several very large companies that, in their arrogance, jettisoned all reasonable standards of common sense and corporate governance simultaneously. These were global brands that failed to realise that the critical elements of the business process in the 21st century demand a fresh perspective and a paradigm shift in the way we handle matters of reputation and risk.

It is time for a new acronym - as if we didn't have enough already. On this occasion, though, it reflects a new business science, one that can take a number of different but related areas, such as information security, ethics and brand management, and subject them to what I call "corporate integrity analysis and management" (Ciam).

Enron, Merrill Lynch, Xerox, Computer Associates, Bank of Ireland, The Department of Transport, Norwich Union, Ford. The real list is even longer, but each of the names above reflects a story which, in most, if not all cases, is related to a technology, its management and, potentially, the absence of appropriate controls involving internal regulation or policy.

Companies today are more than ever before defined by their brand, but in a wired society both the value and public confidence in a brand that has been built up over decades can be destroyed in a matter of hours. I would argue that in attempting to protect their brands and their business, companies today are failing to see the wood for the trees.

Where the arrival of new technology and the Internet may act as a powerful facilitator, it also presents the greatest danger to an enterprise.

This isn't anything new, we all know the risks, both internal and external. There's hacking and viruses; the ever-present danger of irresponsible e-mail use and the liability risk surrounding inappropriate content; questions of ethics and corporate responsibility; the list goes on.

When a company's brand is compromised, the responsibility will invariably fall at the feet of the chief executive, particularly when the value of the company's stock collapses around their ears. However, the problem invariably arises because a vital element of the company's virtual infrastructure has been delegated down the chain of command.

This was true when I asked Jeff Bezos of Amazon two years ago if he was confident that Amazon was secure. From his perspective this was not a business issue, but it quickly became one when the site was attacked not long after.

I believe it is time that businesses took a more holistic view of the connection between risk and reputation. It is no longer sufficient to place anti-virus in one box, corporate liability in a second box and business ethics in a third.

We need a better way of assembling the many different pieces of the puzzle into a single picture that better describes the many new risks to business. These can be more easily managed from the top of the enterprise. Ciam is one name for it, but perhaps you can suggest another?

Simon Moores is chairman of the Research Group www.zentelligence.com/

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