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Focus your message

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  • | 7:01 a.m. April 26, 2013
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Today, when it comes to your company's reputation, which audience matters most: Customers? Employees? Investors? Media?

The correct answer is they all matter. Any individual from any of these audiences can have a huge and immediate impact on the reputation of your company.

For Publilius Syrus, quoted below, his reputation was indeed more valuable than money. It was the difference between slavery and freedom. His story is as interesting as the maxims he wrote.

In the first century B.C., he was a Syrian slave brought to Italy. He earned his freedom the old-fashioned way — by humoring his master with his intelligence. What is known of him today is a series of one-sentence maxims, of which No. 108 is my personal favorite.

For business, the concepts are the same, but the scale is somewhat different.

Think of the damage caused to a company's reputation when a critical blog becomes viral. One example is the customer who made and placed a video on YouTube of the FedEx driver throwing a computer monitor over a fence. Remember it? The video went viral overnight.

When most companies would have gone to the bunkers, FedEx responded quickly and aggressively. It responded in a like fashion on YouTube with a FedEx spokesman who expressed his own outrage of this unacceptable behavior by a FedEx employee, and it did so while maintaining the employee's privacy. It met with the customer and resolved the issue to the customer's satisfaction. This action by FedEx reached multiple audiences simultaneously with a highly focused response.

The crisis was confined and cooled quickly.

Think about all the audiences that are most important to your business. Of these audiences, which one is the most critical audience in your business today? Do you know how these various audiences feel about your company? Are those perceptions changing over time?

Are there new dynamics at play that have the potential to impact your brand? Are there new competitors in your marketplace? Are new products being introduced by competitors before you can react? How is the economy impacting your business? Are you vulnerable to a viral-type crisis? Do you have a crisis recovery plan in place?

One way to keep your finger on the pulse of your reputation is by conducting annual benchmark tracking research with all of your critical audiences and against all of your major competitors. Brand-tracking market research will help you see how reputation dynamics can change over time and how they are impacted by changing market conditions and events both within and outside of your control.

This intelligence will provide you with the kind of insights that allow you to prioritize your audiences and to adjust your messages so your communications, whether they are advertising, public relations, social media, investor relations or some other form of communication, have the most impact.
When you focus a highly targeted message on a highly targeted audience, you have the best chance of having a positive result — whether the goal is to generate more revenue, get Wall Street to support your stock price or simply bolster your corporate reputation.

Prioritizing your audiences to give your communications the most focused impact at the right time is how your message can break through the clutter of all the competitors who are also communicating at the same time.

So, what are the business lessons to be learned from Publilius Syrus?

By knowing his most important audience, and by focusing on convincing his master that he was worthy of special attention and treatment, Publilius Syrus was able to get the master to take dramatic and highly unusual action that made all of the other successes of his life possible.
Knowing your audience and focusing your message can move mountains.

James R. Gregory is founder and CEO of CoreBrand (, a global brand strategy, communications and design firm headquartered in New York, with offices in Los Angeles and Tampa. He helps clients develop strategies to improve their corporate brands and profitability. Gregory is credited with developing pioneering and innovative tools for measuring the power of brands and their impact on a corporation's financial performance. He has written four books on creating value with brands: “Marketing Corporate Image,” “Leveraging the Corporate Brand,” “Branding Across Borders” and “The Best of Branding.” Contact him at: [email protected].


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