Reputational leadership vacuum

By Rajveen Takhar

I have always seen global technology giants Google, Apple and Facebook as being entities which resembled the "cool kids" in the stereotypical American high school kind of way. They dared to be different and epitomised cool.

Their largely unquestioned reputation stemmed, in part, from their ability to set trends. Consequently, they were often cited as reputational leaders by consumers and businesses alike. They were messianic innovators who were on a constant quest to own the next big thing. The credentials of these technology giants spoke for themselves:

  1. In 2012, for instance, Apple had a market capitalisation of $418bn which saw it overtake global oil giant Exxon to become the world's most valuable company.
  2. To 'Google' something has now become a recognised noun in the English language and the firm made over $10bn of profit in 2012 alone. 
  3. Facebook's stock market flotation was valued at an estimated $100bn and has revolutionised the way we communicate for generations to come. 

How has reputation changed?

However, increasingly, the quest for bigger and better has been quelled. We seem to have reached a point where the unquestioned monopolisation of these cool kids has lost a little of its shine. They have since grown up and lost that tantalising edge. We find ourselves in a reputational vacuum; there is a distinct lack of clear leadership. The landscape has evolved and businesses no longer seek to impress consumers, they seek to win their trust. They want to care about what we care about. Here are a couple of examples:

For several years, there has been a growing sense of consumer mistrust about banks. The banks that line high streets became the 'bad guys'. One key outcome? Some of our local supermarkets started to provide banking services instead. Supermarkets evolved into a panacea for the modern consumer in a landscape where we increasingly seek local solutions to local problems.

Compared to the cool technology kids, Marks and Spencer has always been a reliable and loyal kid who quietly got on with its work. This is illustrated by its Plan A strategy which seeks to make it the world's most sustainable retailer by 2015. Its steadfast reputation lies in its ability to stand by its commitments and it wins trust through setting agendas which we are all proud to be associated with.

What does this mean for reputational leaders of the future? 

It is clear that how we define and measure reputation is changing. The 'roundabout of reputation' could be seen to be one's 15 minutes of fame. 

Where one idea is generated an existing idea can become obsolete. The concept of 'bigger and better' will never disappear, however the way this type of leadership manifests itself is changing. 

There has been a shift away from reputational leadership being defined by the novel new kids on the block. Nowadays, it is increasingly rooted in longevity, tradition and trust. 

Consumers are no longer seen as consumers. They are seen as co-creators of brands. 

This could be the reputational lesson from the past that can unlock reputational value in the future. So, although the next generation of leaders may not be the most cutting edge and vibrant, it is likely that their thinking will be.

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