Editor’s note: Michael Porter is the director, University of St. Thomas Master of Business Communication program, St. Paul, Minn.

You have one and so does the business you serve. The president has one and every professional athlete, team and major league – even the equipment used on the field – has one. Non-profits and countries develop them. Even your mother has one. What is it?

A reputation.

In truth, everyone and everything have many reputations. Reputations of a person or organization may vary widely from stakeholder to stakeholder. Depending on the perspective and concerns of any individual, a single act or statement can elevate or destroy a reputation in the minds of others.

Reputations are projected to mass audiences, defined by individuals, measured in aggregated data and generalized to reflect back a picture of the consciousness of the masses. That means there will always be outliers. The beast may only have one hump but will always have two tails. No one should know this better than a market researcher.

The issue – for the individual or organization concerned about the perceptions of others – becomes the difference between what people think and what we wish they might believe. This represents the potential for a gap. While we all have someone in our lives who sees us in the way we wish, many will think less of us and some may even think more highly of us than might be deserved.

This gap is only an issue when someone cares about the stakeholder and what that person or group perceives. You may not care what the neighbor next door thinks because of something he said at a BBQ last summer but the couple across the street is another story, so you hire that new organic lawn service they like.

In business, it’s not just our product or services that need to be monitored for this gab but also customers, community, regulators and even competitors. Particularly with the advent ...