Reputations, once tainted, can cause significant, long-term harm to a brand. No surprises there I’m sure you would agree. But it’s not just the big, bad PR disasters that can cause reputations to crumble. Sometimes small, seemingly insignificant things can have a much more insidious effect on how we perceive an organisation and its brand. I saw this very amusing display at a London tube station recently. The ‘service update’ shown in this picture may have been created by a disgruntled passenger however, due to the presence of London underground staff nearby I have a sneaking suspicion this piece of communication was sanctioned. I’m not sure it does anything to enhance the reputation of the London Underground system. The context of the picture is that it refers to planned engineering works rather than a failure of the system but the way in which this piece of news is being communicated appears to simply say, ‘We’re shut. Go home!’ Messages such as this help to reinforce negative views of an organisation.
At weekends on the tube I often hear over the P.A. system an announcement that begins with, “As part of Transport for London’s investment programme”… all sounding nice and positive, what’s the good news?… “the following lines are closed”. Ah. So investment means closure? Of course not but that’s how it can be perceived. Incongruent communication messages and other, small communication faux pars such as the one illustrated in the accompanying picture, constantly reinforce negative views and slowly degrade a reputation. And once that reputation turns sour it can take a long time to turn it around. I regularly travel on the northern line; known colloquially by many Londoners as ‘the misery line’. Despite service performance regularly exceeding 99%, with only 3 delays in the whole of March for example, the unflattering ‘misery’ nickname lingers on. And when was this name first used? In the 1980s; Over 20 years ago!
Commuters in London have limited choice but to use the tube. So unless you also work in a business sector with zero competition it’s vital to recognize that the small pieces of communication are just as important as the big pieces when it comes to reputation.