By Adam Wakefield

What brings INBREC to back to South Africa, having launched its Africa chapter in October last year in Johannesburg, and why is it important that INBREC has a presence on the continent?

INBREC, which stands for International Brand & Reputation Community, is an initiative of leading Western European corporations and organisations to enhance the quality of their brand and reputation. INBREC-members are all aware of the fact that the reputation of their respective firms significantly drives their business success – and that they can further improve in this area. They also accept the fact that the professional management of their brand and reputation requires resources and top management attention. Research reveals that the reputation of companies significantly influences how the country where these corporations come from are perceived in the eyes of key stakeholders worldwide.

As an example, the current Volkswagen scandal (evading emissions controls) harms the outstanding reputation of German engineering worldwide, and thus the German car industry. Given that South Africa, African countries and their leading corporations do not, in general, have the best reputation outside Africa, Janine Hills, the CEO of Vuma Reputation Management, has approached us and engaged INBREC to professionalise the discipline of brand and reputation management on the African continent – in order to ultimately provide African corporations a better business share worldwide. This is exactly what INBREC is about: sharing expertise and experience among senior brand and reputation managers in order to increase its members’ business performance across all continents.

Why is it important that senior global brand and reputation management professionals exchange information and ideas? What are the advantages of this?

INBREC is a dedicated forum for senior brand and reputation managers of successful and highly respected international corporations and organisations. Its purpose is to offer its participants a unique network of managers responsible for the brands & reputations of leading corporations and organizations, enabling them to exchange their experiences, share their expertise and exclusively learn from peers worldwide. The ultimate goal of INBREC is to consistently improve the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of see above brand and reputation management, as well as demonstrably contribute to the success of international corporations and organisations.

What, in your opinion, are the greatest challenges facing the brand and reputation industry in the global market place?

Brand and reputation are two sides of one coin -- the brand is the definition of how a firm, an organisation or even a whole country strives to be seen in the eyes of their stakeholders (e.g. customers, shareholders, investors or tourists), whereas the reputation is how they are actually perceived by their stakeholders. The biggest challenge is that there are often huge gaps between these sides of the coin, the internal self-view and the external feedback of key stakeholders. Even global blue-chip corporations with significant marketing power suffer from this “misconception”. That’s what we know from many years of consulting experience and from research.

In the long run, only companies that take both sides of the coin into account – and who are aware of what their key stakeholders expect from them -- will remain or become successful in their respective markets. This integrated view leads to a further implication: reputation can be understood only with regards to the stakeholders of an organisation – and must be conceptualised, measured and managed only from their perspective. 

Looking locally at the brand of Corporate South Africa, what opportunities and challenges exist for Corporate South Africa regarding their image is propagated in the right way and produces the right outcomes?

Research shows that “brand South Africa” has the best reputation within Africa, followed by Kenya and Zimbabwe. The challenge is that, when compared to countries beyond the continent, South Africa is ranked somewhere below position 40 out of 75 countries surveyed – behind Saudi Arabia, Russia, China or Malta. The typical leaders in country brand rankings are Japan, Switzerland, Germany and Sweden.

The opportunity, in my view, is that South Africa’s relatively weak reputation outside Africa is based on two pillars: first of all on prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions; and secondly, on the absence of a professional and joint “country brand and reputation management”. The good news is that both pillars can be worked on. Should South Africa decide to combine forces and invest in this field, I think it can significantly improve in the ranking and gradually move up towards the top 20 countries in the mid-term, thus providing South African firms a better position and better business in the global markets.  

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