The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation

The 17th LawIn our last blog, we discussed the struggle Coke’s reputation management team faced at the dawn of the internet. The internet, a fantastic if unpredictable communications tool, was being used to slander their product. Coke’s reputation management team had to think of a way to address the growing concern among their audience that the rumors may just be true. As was discussed in the prior blog, Coke took the time to address the concern. The obvious alternative was to allow the internet to define their brand identity moving forward, allow the defenders and detractors to go at each other’s throats with no input from the brand holder.

Of course, allowing the internet to define their brand identity was judged unacceptable, but there was another alternative that Coke also avoided. Imagine if Coke’s attempt to address the baseless rumors was not to disarm them with a reasoned approach, but simply to deny them. The wrong approach to reputation management would be to:

  • Deny the rumor outright
  • Pretend the rumor doesn’t exist.

The 17th law of reputation management is ‘the defensive is offensive.’ (The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation by Ronal J. Alsop) Should you outright deny a rumor, you are not only denying the rumor, some customers might interpret your straight denial as calling them stupid or dismissing their

concern entirely.

A denial is a slap in the face to some consumers. Imagine if you had just read a disturbing rumor, and gone to Coke asking if it was safe to drink their product or if you should be worried it was eating through your intestinal lining. Coke not only dismisses the rumor but fails to address the core question (will Coke eat through my intestine?). The way Coke actually responded was to assure customers that, to their knowledge, the only reason highway patrol carried Coke was for refreshment and further, water would be a cheaper and just as effective an alternative to its proposed use. Not only does this dismiss the rumor and reinforce Coke’s brand as a refreshing beverage, but it addresses the customer’s core concern.

This example is just one of many and illustrates an internet literacy that we cannot afford to ignore in today’s world. Remember, as Aslop points out, the defensive is offensive. You assault the consumer’s intellect by assuring them there is no problem and they are simply mistaken. The proper response to an attack on your reputation has always been to address the concern seriously, to reassert your message, and respect your consumer.

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