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Want My Opinion: don't confuse brand strength with reputation

04 July 2012

Modern politicians are a good lesson for why confusing brand strength with reputation can have perilous consequences. I’m making a global observation on this now I’m back from my recent trip to London where I attended the Financial Times and International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group) Sustainable Finance Conference. 

Strong, recognizable brands won’t save your reputation if you’ve made ‘errors of judgement’ and you ‘lose your street cred’. Phone hacking would seem to prove that. The way we view those in political power another.

It’s the same for a business. You can’t expect to be taken seriously if all your audience sees when it holds you up to the light are the holes in your credibility. That’s not a positive role model by any stretch of the imagination.

I have to say that’s not what Australians and Australian business are experiencing at the moment – our politicians though, I’m not so sure about. 

The caliber of the Australians presenting at the Sustainable Finance conference did us proud. Add to this that in just about every presentation given, Australia’s standing and reputation for producing many of the best people, ideas, business, arts, science and sports stories was positively acknowledged, and it was quickly apparent just how far above our weight we punch.

Our reputation precedes us. It’s why the Brits are so fearful we might beat them in the medal tally at their own games in July. And I recently met someone who may just be one of those medals.

I was waiting in the airport lounge and there was this tall, slim, athletic young man unpacking and setting up his new piece of technology. I had to smile. He had so many gadgets (all colour matched), and that got me chatting. On his way to represent Australia in the Olympics, he’s one of those runners that goes round the track more times than the English can wave a flag, he happily filled me in on his preparation for Gold.

I was gob smacked. This was a whole career that as far as I could see was without financial remuneration. Of course, I had to ask: but what happens about superannuation and income for you?

“Oh, I haven’t given that any thought,” he said.

It’s something I’ve noticed in many young people (and they don’t even have the training for Gold excuse) – they ignore their super, thinking they have all the time in the world.

Of course, his answer inspired me to get on my soapbox. I don’t think my tirade destroyed our young track-and-field-hopeful’s mindset for the race, but I certainly did leave him thinking about where his focus would shift to once the Games were over, and what he might be able to do with his sponsorship and endorsement relationships. Prospects he’d put aside in his prep for the Games – as you would imagine – and I understood that.

When he does finally finish that race with what I truly hope is a Gold medal, he needs to take a leaf out of our woman at work profile this month with Katrina Webb. The successful Paralympian and South Australian business woman has some fantastic insights into nurturing relationships and understanding the opportunities that elite sporting success can bring you and the importance of making something of those opportunities as early as possible.

Back in cold rainy Melbourne – not that dissimilar to London really, and they don’t even have Winter as an excuse – my chemist said to me the other day when I was down collecting more drugs for the lurgie I picked up in my travels and which I have managed all year so far to dodge, that he would love to wear a mask. He had just been coughed over by a man wanting cold and flu tablets who seemed to have forgotten he had hands. 

I had to agree about the mask.

Planes and the chemist, you see, have made me very aware of people’s habits and I really understand the feeling of certainty a mask provides you both as cold giver and cold getter.

We see the mask as some sort of personal slight but happily blow our noses in public and cough without a hand to our lips. Imagine what Japanese people must think, where the mask is polite consideration and blowing your nose in public one of the worst things you can possibly do.

The big reveal in June – and for which I can’t stress enough the worth of getting online and nominating now – was the Westpac and Financial Review’s 100 Women of Influence. 

The awards program is a major vehicle for kick-starting the process of change, increasing diversity at all levels of society. Judged by a panel of their peers – leaders in society and business themselves – there will be 10 women nominees in 10 categories chosen each year. 

It’s the Power of 100 multiplied and multiplied. Banks do love that word, ‘compound’, and as the list of winners and nominees grows, so too will the stories compound around what it takes to be a woman in leadership and why diversity benefits us all. 

I’ve been doing a little myth busting myself. Recently I was on Channel Ten’s “The Circle”, and got a chance to tell those watching just who it is in the family doing the budgets and saving, and who spends, and just how wrong those stories we hear about women and credit cards really are. I mean I’m all for people having their opinion but not when they mess with the facts.

Which brings me to one more thing: the recent visit by the IFC to analyse our success and strategies reaching, nurturing, developing and growing women’s markets and women owned businesses in this country. Again, our reputation precedes us.

The IFC’s fact-finding mission revolves around putting together a ‘best practice’ manual, and has already begun to uncover and explore a few major themes: 

•Women find access to finance their biggest challenge.

•Women are more conservative about making decisions about approaching Financial Institutions and banks to borrow.

•At the end of the day, if you’re going to offer women financial products you must offer them educational products as well. Women demand information that prepares them to make the right and appropriate decisions for their business or family.

•Finally, women are time poor. They do not have the same amount of time for networking as most men do. That doesn’t mean they don’t like networking or don’t want to do it. They do. The challenge is to deliver networking opportunities via an efficient, easy, simple, flexible platform that meets the needs of women. Ruby is one very real and positive way.

Ruby, you know, offers women the opportunity to interact, learn and reach markets and information they may find it difficult to access and all without having to spend a whole Saturday playing golf or evenings out at drinks.