CREDIBILITY AND THE POWER OF OUR BRAND
Recently I’ve had a number of discussions centred around the concept of credibility. In particular assumptions made that cause others to believe we, as an individual or company, don’t have the necessary skills (or product, capacity or support) and who therefore do not listen or take an interest in an offer of product or service as a result. This originated when having lunch with some colleagues the topic of conversation shifted to frustration at organisations (in different countries) unwilling or unable to take on good advice. It also applies to individuals when we assume someone not from our background could understand or assist (or someone not from our country) and is too small/too large/too hot/too cold/too much of one thing or too little of another to see where we’re coming from and be able to make a difference in some of the fundamental challenges we are facing. Size of economy doesn’t matter, what matters is the capacity to innovate in this regard. It is outcome of the ease with which business can be done (regulations), the open access to essential information (communication technology and attitude to learning), tolerance of diversity, historical degree of entrepreneurialism (cultural values and economic systems), and immediate need (urgency). Sometimes those assumption that work against us having credibility in the eyes of others are based upon suspicion and rumour (including occupational reputation) and/or known facts that give pause to time spent listening, learning and taking on board what we might have to say. Usually, however, those assumptions are based upon false generalisations and can be summated within the phrase, ‘You don’t understand what we do or know enough about what we do.’ This, of course, begs two questions. First, if an organisation or individual does not themselves fully understand their role, challenges, purpose, and process (a more frequent occurrence than business are often willing to admit simply due to size, complexity or lack of reflection/review) then is it not both foolish and somewhat arrogant that they expect others to? That is the point of fresh eyes and a different perspective. Second, if an organisation or individual does clearly understand these factors then for what reason is it believed that an individual or group cannot add value by improving and providing an alternative view on critical aspects of how an organisation operates, what it produces, its relationship with its market and its strategy for the future? Persuasion against these incumbent mindsets is assisted by number of factors, a key one of which is perceived relevance and credibility. Credibility hinges upon the reputation we have. Reputation isn’t a product of how we talk about ourselves but of how others talk about us. For others to talk about us they need to watch us or at least listen to those who have some knowledge of who we are, what we stand for, and the work we do. Credibility is gained through relationship management, time, and the lens through which product, service and interpersonal contact occurs. Corporations understand this all too well – the ability of a brand to be larger than the actual strength of its products or services. This is the assumption that by virtue of visual exposure to a brand image, frequency of product sighting in a market, or brand name entering into regular social and professional conversation the brand must, essentially, be a good one and therefore of value (or at least a viable competitor with a sound promise of value). This is how great brands thrive and become self-sustaining. It is also how former great brands survive long after the product or service they had was competitive in quality or price – through brand inertia and customer loyalty. The same principle applies to individuals and the concept of an individual brand, based as it is on the work done, how one is spoken about, and the impression we make. Individuals with a good reputation based upon a) sighting of work samples (social media has made this a quick, accessible, and affordable reality), b) frequency of delivering solutions with brand champions (current established brands that have name recognition in the marketplace), and c) the frequency of someone being positively talked about in commercial conversations (professional, knowledgeable, created a solution, easy to work with, ethical) will more easily gain credibility with those they do not know and with whom they have had no previous contact. These, then, are the three factors individuals need to develop in order to build credibility in a new market they have targeted for growth. A plan building on these factors needs to form a key component of any marketing strategy. It is a long term strategy that turns the individual’s brand into a self-sustaining engine over a period of time. This strategy needs to take ‘known facts’ and clarify their accuracy and relevance. This in turn creates a compelling case to listen and learn, to stop and consider – to reflect on what is deemed important and why, and the obstacles and opportunities for progress previously undiscovered or dismissed. Once we shift thinking, or at least introduce the possibility that current thinking has been surpassed or new thinking will generate different results, behavioural change in processes and systems will follow – all as a result of how we have sown the seeds of credibility.