Resolving the Vexing Confusion About Brand, Reputation, Trust, CSR

Bryan DumontBryan Dumont is president of APCO Insight, the opinion research group at APCO, and is based in Brussels.

For the past several years, I’ve been constantly asked by clients to describe the difference between brand, reputation, trust and corporate responsibility—including shared value. All of us who work in corporate communications should recognize the confusion around the conceptual overlap that exists between the roles of the chief marketing officer (protecting the equity of the corporate brand), the chief communication officer (protecting the company’s reputation), and the top CSR executives (communicating the societal value of the company).

There are so many models and research tools out there that have catered to these specific corporate interests like brand equity indices, reputation research tools, CSR measurement models, etc. In fact, one of our clients was investing large sums of money to simultaneously use a traditional brand equity tool to understand the corporate brand, the Edelman Trust Barometer, APCO’s approach to measuring their corporate reputation across multiple stakeholder groups, and other ad hoc studies to evaluate social innovation and shared value models. When the CEO saw the results, his first question was, “How are all these studies really different, and how do we act on these results?” We realized it was time to start answering these questions and help bring clarity to the bigger question of how do we create real and enduring corporate brand value.

There are countless numbers of ratings and rankings of companies; however, these studies have relied on single theories or models. We believe that corporate reputation is absolutely important, but no longer enough to distinguish the very best companies that stand the test of time. Similarly, authenticity and trust are important notions, but cannot fully explain the changing relationship between companies and society. Brand relationship theory and the importance of building emotional connections is well-established for product brands, but has been largely overlooked in understanding the corporate brand. And while Shared Value is forward-thinking and plays an important role in how companies are seeking to distinguish themselves, it has yet to be operationalized into a comprehensive approach to understanding and creating corporate brand value.

Champion Brand PhilosophyWe realize that each of these theories are important and have volumes of data to prove their importance and predictive validity in driving better business outcomes. The Champion Brand Model not only brings all of the best thinking together, it helps uncover the relationship between these theories. What our research found is that there are four discrete dimensions that can be measured in a statistically valid and reliable manner, and that have a hierarchical relationship in differentiating good companies from truly great corporate brands.

The Four AsThese dimensions are Alignment, Authenticity, Attachment and Advocacy, which we refer to as the Four As. Our data proved across multiple analyses that there is a hierarchy amongst the Four As with Alignment at the foundation, followed by Authenticity, then Attachment, and Advocacy at the top. The simplest explanation for the hierarchy of the Four As is that, on the whole, companies do best on Alignment so it is the lowest threshold to reach. The second highest overall mean score across all companies is with Authenticity, followed by Attachment. Across the board, companies score the lowest on Advocacy, thereby making it the hardest threshold to reach for most companies.

We didn’t invent the elements of the Champion Brand model. Instead we found a way to pull the best thinking together in a statistically valid manner, and we can now explain the relationship between these theories in a way that helps companies create a roadmap for building corporate brand value. Learn more about the Four As and the Champion Brand Model at

Posted on January 29, 2013 By Bryan Dumont
Categories  Reputation and tagged , , , , ,
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