[dropcap size=small]E[/dropcap]veryone knows reputation is important. Hey, just ask a Volkswagen dealer.

But it’s important to be intentional about your reputation. Don’t just let reputation happen. If you do, you will be missing the opportunity to not just be different (which your business probably already is), but be known to be different and translate that into business advantage.

Your reputation has as much value as almost any other enterprise asset. And like many profoundly important things in our lives, it is easy to take it for granted and just let it sit there quietly doing what it does, like the windshield in a car, for example. But take it away and suddenly you realize the value it delivers.

Again, think about that lonely Volkswagen dealer who went from a comfortable, middle-of-the-pack, quirky-but-reliable reputation that delivered a steady stream of customers to headlines screaming “corporate fakers,” “crashing sales” and “financially teetering” in a matter of weeks.

What does a business need to do to get started on reputation creation? Here are three simple steps:

    1. Decide reputation creation is worth doing. Assign a little bit of time to consciously manage it.
    2. Assess what you do and who you are and identify the things that you want to be the foundation of your reputation. If you have done any vision/mission/values work then the ideas are probably already there.
    3. Think about who your reputation is going to be important to – the audience and stakeholders. Where is the most leverage, opportunity and risk?

Once you have the answers to those questions, you can get started with being intentional about your reputation. The road map is similar to the marketing effort you put into a product or service brand. As part of that process, typically organizations develop a new product or service, evaluate the market and identify a value proposition. A key step is to identify the brand promise, communicate it and set out to prove the promise.It’s the same basic idea for your broader reputation with all of your stakeholders.

But what’s the difference between brand and reputation? Marketers can spend a lot of time arguing, and the two often overlap, but a Sloan Review article described brands as being “customer-centric” and reputation as “company-centric,” which captures the essence of the difference. Reputation is the broader of the two, and arguably the more difficult to manage. My colleague Allan Gregg quotes his dad as saying “you have to do a hundred things right to have a good reputation and one thing wrong to have a bad reputation.”

But what value does this reputation thing have? Isn’t reputation something I can think about when we cross $X million in revenue or hire our 50th or 500th or employee? Well, no. You and your enterprise started to create its reputation the moment it went from an idea to an action. From that instant on, the enterprise is building a reputation, and it’s either working for you or against you.

Reputation has an immediate impact on the quality of people you are able to hire, the ability to open doors, the willingness of partners to consider you, your treatment by the media, governments and the community and more.

Look around you. There are things about your enterprise or your idea that are different, aren’t there? Take advantage of those differences.

As Dr. Strangelove said about the Doomsday Device, it doesn’t do much good if you keep it a secret. Start managing your reputation.

Photo: Ground Beetle by Mike is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

In Position is a monthly column focusing on communications, public relations and government relations for tech companies. It is produced for Communitech News by the Earnscliffe Strategy Group in Toronto.