In the research world brand and corporate reputation have lived parallel lives.
Quarterly brand trackers are commonplace and a key (dependable) source of revenue for the larger MR suppliers.
Annual corporate reputation studies are also fielded for most large corporations and are focused on a much wider array of universes than the brand tracker.
Different metrics and different audiences separate these two research programs. For now.
But, what happens when the following trends collide?
1. Frictionless data acquisition on any company or product.
2. Complete transparency driven by niche blogging, employee websites, wikileaks, etc.
3. Aggregated corporate reputation rating schemes. Think eBay seller ratings and ratemyprofessors.com
If and when this happens we can anticipate the merger of brand and corporate reputation with the possibility that corporate reputation swallows up brand research.
Because the amount of chatter and user generated content created externally about the corporation and its products, mission and behavior will be much, much larger than the mindshare purchased via advertising.
I have recently read two books that address this issue in passing. Consider the thinking of these authors:
Richard Watson, Future Files:
“By the year 2020 people, products and organizations will have reliability ratings. These will grade honesty, integrity and transparency and will be created by and available to everyone…Reputations will therefore be actively managed and, in some cases, even traded or stolen.” (page 34)
Rachel Botsman, What’s Mine is Yours:
“People will have ‘reputation bank accounts’ alongside their normal banks accounts, and a reputation rating will literally measure contributions made to various collaborative communities.” (page 224)
If you follow this thinking to its conclusion, then reputation management will likely eclipse brand management within the decade. This will be a bigger, more holistic job, than brand management, because it will interface with HR, operations, marketing, etc.
On one hand, this could be very good for market research. It could give MR a much stronger seat at the table.
On the other, all the needed tracking data could be open and available to all. This would mean that MR would need to aggregate and track the data, as opposed to collecting it.
Insights functions should strongly consider the implications of this shift.