Equity flow is an important way to leverage value from a strong reputation.
It can be used to build business when market opportunities arise, or as a defence when reputation turbulence hits.
Above all, the management of equity flow should be seen as a strategic process that brings together people across the marketing, communications and leadership spectrum.
We live in a world where corporate behaviour has never been under greater scrutiny and where judgement of a company can be transmitted around the world at a touch of a button. This reality presents both a threat and an opportunity from a corporate perspective.
Companies that are seen to do the right thing and imbue their corporate brand with positive equity can harness that very same equity to endorse the products they deliver. Indeed, equity flow can work both ways and a corporate brand can also receive equity from its product brands as long as they are meeting or exceeding customer needs.
Equity flow is therefore the extent to which stakeholders understand and value the connection between the corporate brand and subsidiary or product brands.
While nearly all of our Reputation Council members (80%) find equity flow to be important, the reasons for this importance are nearly as varied as the number of companies represented in the Council.
However, a careful analysis of the responses points to three main concepts when it comes to equity flow:
The Golden Thread – equity that entwines itself between the corporate and product brands. This equity can flow up from the product brands as well as flowing down from the corporate brand. Reputation Council members who espouse this concept tend to come from companies with a very strong and visible corporate mission. Achieving a golden thread requires strong alignment between corporate brand communications and product marketing.
Seal of Approval – the corporate brand acts as a quality mark for sub-brands or sub-categories. This concept is similar to the golden thread, but is specifically focused on leveraging equity around the key themes of quality and reliability. The seal of approval is particularly useful when expanding into new categories or geographies. In fact, some companies that may not display their corporate brand prominently in their home markets will place the corporate brand front and centre on products in developing markets, in order to draw upon the reputation for quality and reliability that is associated with products from developed markets.
Transparency Agenda – in last year’s Reputation Council report, members were urging their organisations to be transparent in order to meet the information needs of stakeholders in the interest of promoting open and honest communications. This transparency agenda unfolds when discussing equity flow as well. Stakeholders want to know more about the companies they interact with and part of this understanding is knowing all of the brands and categories that are present.
Other applications of equity flow – entering new markets can be challenging for companies on a number of levels, and establishing equity flow can ease entry among both regulators and consumers. Many companies who do not prominently display their corporate brand on product brands within their home market may do so in new/developing markets in order to provide a seal of approval to their product brands. Knowing that a global company stands behind a brand gives regulators and consumers the confidence that products are of high quality.
Council members are divided on the effects of equity flow in crisis management situations. Some members worry that strong equity flow could have an adverse impact during a crisis, as brands that may have escaped negativity could be drawn in or contaminated. However, other members argue that a strong corporate brand can help a product brand recover from a crisis more quickly and that a broader awareness of a company’s categories helps to insulate the company as a whole from isolated incidents.
For many companies, one of the roles of the corporate brand is to carry the company’s sustainability message. The sustainability message has more impact, though, if there is strong equity flow – otherwise the benefit for the product brands is minimal.
Methodology: 127 interviews conducted with Reputation Council members between April and August 2017.
Equity flow is important across companies and industries. The way that importance is gauged varies by company and industry. The concepts we have identified should provide corporate communicators with a way to understand their own equity situation, helping facilitate discussions with internal stakeholders. The benefits we have identified can provide communicators with avenues for improving or directing their equity flow, leading to improved brand and business performance.