Can Brand Strength Surpass Brand Reputation?

How is Samsung beating Apple? Companies that focus on three key factors – what they do, what they say, and who they are – are winners in today’s competitive branding head-to-head.


Recently Bulldog Reporter published “How Did Samsung Become a Stronger Brand than Apple—and What Has It Done to the Companies’ Reputations?”, an overview from the Reputation Institute reputation-tracking study that  “highlights the correlation between brand strength and overall corporate reputation – and consumer perceptions of those reputations.” In the study, Samsung was ranked at #3 with a brand strength score of 82.9 and Apple ranked #153 with a brand strength score of 75.2, nearly eight points behind Samsung. In many consumers’ minds, the two brands have the appearance of running neck-and-neck in terms of brand awareness, market share and even innovation, but these markers only tell part of the story.

The key factor in Samsung’s rise is an approach that equally balances and aligns communication around three areas. Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, vice president and managing director of the U.S. and Canada at Reputation Institute, says, “The correlation between brand strength and reputation is irrefutable. Corporations that perform well on the three triggers of brand strength—what they do, say and are—enjoy the benefits of enhanced reputation, which makes consumers more likely to buy from and buy into the company, and also inspires prospective employees to want to work for the company.” How do successful brands like Samsung, outpace a perceived innovator like Apple?

What a Brand Does

When addressing what a brand does, it’s not enough to have a good product that speaks for itself in the marketplace. After all, look what happened to the once goliath in mobile communications, Blackberry, a solid product that did not iterate quickly enough or embrace market changes, all but sealing its fate in the mobile market. In order to measure-up, especially in an uber-competitive industry like mobile devices, brands must be flexible enough to quickly embrace innovations and communicate that focus on innovation to consumers and deliver on an expected experience; it’s what you say you do and what you actually do as a brand that solidifies a brand’s position in the consumer mind. Further, having nearly equal processing power and dynamic offerings, Samsung actually outpaces Apple in the price category, beating Apple almost uniformly on this consumer-value.

It’s what you say you do and what you actually do as a brand that solidifies a brand’s position in the consumer’s mind.”

What a Brand Says

Apple’s forward-facing communications program has always communicated its innovation-first aim to consumers, but Samsung has now caught up to Apple in advances, creating powerful devices that change the way we communicate. While Apple is still no slouch, Samsung has bitten at Apple’s heels enough that consumers now see Samsung as a viable alternative to the pricey device that consumers used to wait in long lines for. Apple’s slow rollouts for new devices also doesn’t help their position as innovators in the market. Innovators innovate quickly, so waiting a year or more for an upgraded device doesn’t communicate progress. Further, Samsung seems to be better at engaging in conversations with consumers than Apple, which is a master of one-way communications.

What a Brand Is

This is the area where Samsung has made the most headway. Having a cohesive communication strategy that aligns messaging across channels, both internally and externally, has made a real difference in the wars with Apple. Brands today are more than the sum of their products. As we discussed in the Journal of Brand Strategy, “The best brands have become living, breathing entities, like people; they respond to consumer desires, have conversations and show emotion. Today, we know that the path to purchase is an emotional journey. While reason leads to conclusions, we understand that emotion leads to action, and everything starts with a conversation.” That conversation makes all of the difference in sparking brand awareness, recognition and loyalty.

Not only is Samsung’s forward-facing communications persona better equipped to spark conversation, but according to Bulldog Reporter, “Samsung has a better-integrated brand and corporate communications strategy that generates the benefits of a stronger corporate brand. Samsung delivers on the three aspects of brand strength, and also meets or exceeds expectations on all seven rational dimensions of reputation, which comprise products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership, and financial performance.” So while Apple has primarily focused on creating innovative products and tracking their financial performance, Samsung has focused on aligning their communications to internal and external stakeholders, resulting in a brand that is more authentic, holistic and relatable.

The research shows that brand strength impacts reputation through perceptions of whether the company offers consistent delivery (what they do), sparks genuine dialogue (what they say) and conveys a unique persona (what they are). The better a company is on delivering a consistent experience, being genuine, and standing out from the crowd, the stronger the perceptions of their brand—and resultantly, the stronger the emotional halo of reputation.”
– Bulldog Reporter

Related Insights