Nineteenth-century artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler understood that his livelihood and legacy depended almost entirely on how critics presented his work to the public. And although he didn't have access to today's sophisticated brand monitoring technology to help him identify and respond to all the conversations about himself, he did have the right idea.

Whistler became so obsessed with critics who denounced his work as "lacking narrative structure and form" that he compiled scrapbooks of reviews, asked friends to send him papers that mentioned him, and employed a press-clipping agency. He even went so far as to pinpoint a specific offender and take him to court for the damage inflicted. Perhaps Whistler should be credited for being the first person to implement systematic brand monitoring!

Flash-forward to today. Brands are increasingly focused on listening for online activity involving their organizations. But they have put an emphasis on measuring audience sentiment to firefight instances of negative brand perception, especially those expressed over social media channels. Is that really enough to protect them from the reputational risks and other business risks stemming from the broadening online landscape?


Organizations require deeper, contextual insight into the situations driving sentiment. Social media and more comprehensive online brand monitoring tools should enable companies to hone in on potential threats (such as Whistler did) that might make or break their business. Armed with that intelligence, brands can be better prepared to tackle risks that can become events that spiral out of control and to prevent any negative perception and further damage from forming as a result.

Sentiment vs. Situations

Brand sentiment is only the tip of the iceberg. By the time the sentiment is bearing down on a brand through a social media storm, the brand is already in full recovery mode. An organization may be reacting, but the range of specific, immediate actions needed to respond to the sentiment are minimal.

Underneath sentiment, however, are situations.

Take the example of a local company that pulls its long-standing sponsorship of a town baseball field. If the brand was tracking online sentiment, it would be monitoring social media posts to gauge overall perception of the decision. But, in situation monitoring, the company would take a more granular approach and hone in on specific responses, allowing it to proactively address concerns that could evolve into situations, such as whether community members were planning a protest.

Just as smoke alarms help prevent catastrophic losses from fires, brand monitoring can offer valuable early warning of malicious online activity that, if left unchecked, could badly damage a company's reputation. It prevents situations from escalating and swaying sentiment in the first place.

The Changing Role of Marketers

In 2006, during a trip to Shanghai, fashion designer Giorgio Armani spent $22 to purchase a counterfeit version of one of his company's wristwatches. Instead of being angry that someone was profiting from his company's reputation, he claimed to be flattered. He said, "If you are copied, you are doing the right thing."

Armani is correct in the sense that his Marketing department has done its job in building up the luxury brand's reputation over the years. But, in the past, brand security, which focused on counterfeiting, theft, and online rogue schemes, was the responsibility of the chief security officer and the security operations team.

Today, brand risks extend far beyond security responsibilities to governance, risk, compliance, and reputational issues arising online and across social media platforms. Those new risks, especially reputational risks, must be managed, and smart marketing teams are taking action to proactively monitor and protect their brands.

Chief marketing officers (CMOs) need to focus on brand and social media risks as part of their reputation-management responsibilities. CMOs should be concerned about vulnerabilities created by the activities of executives, employees, and third parties like partners, and consider how the actions of each could lead to brand misappropriation, brand dilution, and public missteps, especially on social media.

Striking the Right Balance

Ideally, today's marketers should follow the classic Pareto Principle. The majority of marketing efforts (80%) should be geared toward promoting the brand; the other 20% should be set aside to protect what's been built. But even if only 10% of marketing effort is applied, it is a lot better than no effort!

In Whistler's case, though he put a lot of energy into sentiment monitoring, the pinpointing of a damaging situation aided him in turning his reputation around and seeing increased momentum in his work as a result.

Marketers should do the same.

Brand monitoring must go beyond just measuring sentiment, so organizations can get visibility below the surface of public perception. In doing so, they can identify the true nature of the reputational risk and hone in and take action on those situations-in-making that can have a real business impact.

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image of Greg Mancusi-Ungaro

Greg Mancusi-Ungaro is chief marketing officer of BrandProtect, a Toronto-based vendor offering Internet threat detection services. He also is a co-founder of the openSUSE project

LinkedIn: Greg Mancusi-Ungaro

Twitter: @gmancusiungaro