- Corporate image and corporate reputation are subjective perceptions that affect how people see and interact with your business.
- Corporate image is more about how a brand makes people feel, while reputation includes people’s perceptions of a company’s products, leadership, finances, social responsibility, and interactions with its customers, employees, and community.
- Both corporate image and reputation can impact a company’s revenue and success.
- Even if you have a good corporate reputation, a poor company image can hurt revenues.
- Incorporating image consulting into your reputation management strategy can improve your brand’s reach and success.
At first glance, one might think corporate image and corporate reputation are interchangeable concepts.
There are definitely similarities between the two. They are both subjective perceptions that affect not only how people see your business, but also how and if they do business with you.
But there are important differences. Your corporate image represents specific perceptions about your company’s products and how they make people feel. It's based on an impression or accepted idea – it doesn’t involve the research, consideration, and knowledge that are at the basis of your corporate reputation. It's an initial impression or gut reaction that people have and can also be shaped by society, fads, and public opinion.
Your corporate reputation is a broader concept that includes perceptions of a company’s products and services and how the company and its leadership operate. It incorporates how the company treats its customers, employees, community, and the environment. It's based more on facts, history, and research.
Corporate reputation can affect any stakeholder or potential customer, while corporate image could be perceived differently across different types of customers. Your company can simultaneously be seen differently by various groups based on their unique demographics.
In research that distinguishes the different roles corporate image and reputation play, Cretu and Brodie note that “[a] brand's image has a more specific influence on the customers' perceptions of product and service quality while the company's reputation has a broader influence on perceptions of customer value and customer loyalty.”
Corporate image case study: Keds
To get a better idea of how a positive corporate image and reputation differ, we need to turn no further than the tale of a brand of sneakers.
Shoe manufacturer Keds began making shoes in 1916, creating the very first mass-marketed sneaker. Through the years, the shoes became a staple of athletic and pop culture. They were adopted by numerous celebrities including Marylin Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Jackie Kennedy, and Katharine Hepburn.
Keds released athletic versions called Pro-Keds to compete with industry leader Converse. The shoes were sported by professional athletes such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and "Pistol Pete" Maravich. They were even on the feet of punk rockers The Ramones. Keds became nearly synonymous with the traditional American cheerleader's uniform and were ever-present on the sidelines of high school football and basketball games.
In the late 1980s, Keds reached a new level of popularity with the release of the hit film Dirty Dancing, which prominently featured the shoes worn by Jennifer Grey's character "Baby" and numerous others in the movie. In other countries, the name "Keds" had even become a generic term for all sneakers.
Unfortunately, times changed and together with 80s mullets, neon colors, and big hair, Keds' popularity faded. While their corporate reputation was intact, the product's image became dated and stale. The company still made the same shoes, but instead of being a fashion staple with the cool kids, Keds quickly became irrelevant.
In 2015, coinciding with the company's centennial, Keds launched the "Ladies First Since 1916" campaign that celebrated the rich history of strong women embracing the brand. It centered on "women who create their own paths, make their own rules, and harness the power of femininity and strength."
The company partnered with musician Taylor Swift and the superstar launched her own line of shoes, further solidifying Keds’ re-entry into relevancy. Keds even sponsored Swift's smash hit "1989" tour, releasing limited edition shoes inspired by the album.
These efforts paid off and Keds' revamped image took them to new heights with higher profits and more revenue. Also, after a four-decade absence, they moved their manufacturing back to the United States and implemented organic cotton, recycled rubber, and non-toxic inks and dyes into production.
This case study clearly highlights the difference between image and reputation. Keds’ reputation didn't change but their image did. In fact, the image change was accompanied by other decisions that could be viewed as making a positive impact on the company’s reputation.
Reputation consulting vs. image consulting
What's the difference between reputation consulting and image consulting?
Image consulting looks at how your brand is viewed at a glance: what are the perceptions that consumers have about your brand, even if they’ve never engaged with it? In the case of Keds, it was clear that the company's reputation was fine, but its image was rising and falling with the whims of pop culture. They were seen as outdated and unhip. The brand of a bygone generation. By revising their approach and working with someone like Taylor Swift to not just promote but create, they could take control of their image and remain relevant.
Corporate reputation consulting considers how people feel about the reliability and responsibility of your corporation. Your corporate reputation is “the sum total of what consumers communicate that they feel about the company.” Now, more than ever, consumers want to know that companies take responsibility for their actions. By moving their manufacturing to Michigan and implementing environmentally conscious production changes, Keds showed they understood this idea; This is why reputation consulting must take a holistic approach that views and protects your company’s reputation from every angle.
Both are subjective, but a reputation is good or bad; an image simply is. That does not mean your image has to remain where it is or that there aren't judgments that need adjusting. Joining forces with a corporate image consultant can show you where your brand’s image stands and be a starting point for shifting into a more favorable position.
What to ask a corporate image consultant
A good image consultant does not view your image as something separate from your reputation but rather considers your corporate image in the context of your reputation as a whole. The consultant understands how the concepts relate and complement each other as well as stand on their own. That is why conducting an image analysis as part of your corporate reputation management can be very valuable.
Unless you have a clear image problem (i.e., our shoes are no longer cool), the following questions are a great start for your corporate image consultant:
- Is there a clear way in which our corporate image affects our reputation?
- Are there gaps in how our image is received and the products or services we offer?
- Are we engaging the correct audience? Are we successfully reaching the people we are trying to reach?
- What do people who don’t intimately know our brand think about the quality of our products or services? How is our brand perceived by the public? Is it overly positive? Neutral?
- What negative aspects of our image can be fixed? And how?
These questions will assist you in mapping out your corporate image strategy. They also help you uncover problems that require your attention. Remember, knowledge is power. The better you understand your image, the stronger you can build your brand and business.
If you are already using our reputation management services, weaving this knowledge in with your existing strategy might give you better overall results, too. We may not include Taylor Swift in the mix, but we can incorporate image considerations into our reputation management strategy to strengthen your brand.
Corporate image FAQs
What is the difference between corporate image and corporate reputation?
A corporate image is based on an impression or accepted idea – it doesn’t involve the research, consideration, and knowledge that are at the basis of your corporate reputation. On the other hand, your corporate reputation is a broader concept that includes perceptions of a company’s products and services, how the company and its leadership operate overall, and how the company treats its customers, employees, community, and the environment.
What is corporate reputation?
Your corporate reputation is the sum total of what consumers communicate that they feel about the company. This is why reputation consulting must take a holistic approach that views and protects your company’s reputation from every angle.
What questions should I ask a corporate image consultant?
The following questions are a great start for your corporate image consultant. Is there a clear way in which our corporate image affects our reputation? Are there any gaps in how our image is received and the products or services we offer? Are we engaging the correct audience? Are we reaching the audience we are trying to reach? What do people who don’t intimately know our brand think about the quality of our products or services? What negative aspects of our image can be fixed? And how?
About the author
Kent Campbell is the chief strategist for Reputation X, an award-winning reputation management agency based in California. Kent has over 15 years of experience with SEO reputation management, Wikipedia editing, review management, and strategy. Kent has helped celebrities, leaders, executives, and marketing professionals improve the way they are seen online. Kent writes about reputation, SEO, Wikipedia, and PR-related topics, and is an expert witness for reputation-related legal matters. You can find Kent's biography here.