How often does the word "brand" pop up in conversations with your fellow professionals? I'd stick out my neck and say hardly ever.
Perhaps you should talk about it more often. This month, a report from the CMO Council, a global marketing organisation, focuses on the correlation between information security and corporate reputation. More specifically, it outlines the impact this may have on customer behaviour and the potential pitfalls for those organisations that fail to take this seriously
The report predictably highlights those organisations whose business is based on a direct responsibility for consumers most prized asset - their money. But it would be unwise to think that a secure brand only applies to the financial services. Any business needs to reassure its customers and partners that its data is secure.
It's becoming clear that if a business has a reputation for being careless, leaky or just plain negligent, it will damage its brand and have a negative impact on customer loyalty. This is the message of the CMO report and real life is already bearing this out.
Troubled internet giant AOL is to be sued by three of its customers under Californian privacy laws following the public disclosure of around 19 million search requests earlier this year. This supposedly private data was leaked onto the internet, much to the amusement of the media.
Has this damaged the AOL brand? For an ISP that likes to present itself as customer-focused, trustworthy and safety-minded, you bet it has. The fact that AOL retains search data is not being questioned at present, but that it betrayed its customers' trust by making some data public, most certainly is. The episode cost CTO Maureen Govern her job, but it may cost AOL much more.
Some marketers question whether security is yet a true differentiator when it comes to consumer choice, but how many AOL subscribers now trust it as completely as they once did? Potential customers may choose another ISP after this episode - not something AOL needs as it fights for market share. As an attorney involved in the case told the newswires: "People paid AOL with the belief that their privacy was going to be protected.
That's not what happened."The lawsuit is likely to seek an end to the retention of search data by AOL and financial compensation to those customers affected.
In the UK, some financial services institutions claim that security has no real impact on customer choice, but they are currently protected from making breaches and data loss public. Were legislation brought in to change this, their view on how IT security impacts brand differentiation may change. If bank A is proven to have had 25 breaches in the past six months, their customers may well switch to bank B.
A trusted brand used to mean that it could be relied upon to deliver whiter whites, or at least get your clothes clean - in future it's likely to involve a far higher degree of trust.