MIAMI—The lines between marketing and public relations have been blurring in recent years, but new research presented by Fleishman-Hillard and Harris Interactive at the Global Public Relations Summit in Miami, which finds that the right balance between reputation and brand management can be “a force multiplier” in driving recommendations and sales.

“This is not just about building brand; it’s about driving the business forward,” said Robert Fronk, senior vice president and reputation practice leader at Harris Interactive. “We look at brand and reputation as means to an end. We want to know if we are creating relationships and driving the kinds of behaviors we want.”

Fronk’s new research draws on two major studies conducted by Harris over several years: the Equitrends research that looks at brand attributes and the Reputation Quotient study, which focuses on corporate reputation—which share a common focus on intent-to-purchase and driving recommendation and advocacy.

The research found some surprising ways in which corporate reputation impacts purchasing decisions—in the automotive sector, for example, executive leadership has a real influence on consumers, while food and beverage purchasers care about whether the company they are buying from is a good place to work. It also found that in the business-to-business sector, consumer attitudes can have an impact on even a fairly narrow niche market, with buyers paying attention to whether they “see the brand everywhere.”

“What we find across industries is that the combination of brand and reputation serves as a multiplier,” says Fronk.

In fact, in every sector, reputational factors are at least as critical in driving both purchase intent and recommendation as brand attributes.

“This study provides real ammunition in terms of the building understanding of the power of convergence of brand a reputation and how they play together to drive intent to endorse or recommend and in terms of purchasing decisions,” says Dave Senay, global president and CEO of Fleishman-Hillard.

Panel member David Roman, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Lenovo, expressed no surprise at the research findings, however.

“In the technology sector, companies start out with products and a focus on the attributes people associate with those products,” he said. “But when people are buying those products, they are really buying the company. There’s a focus on corporate attributes and how they tie together with the product attributes.”

In particular, as the company moves into new markets such as Brazil and Russia, he says, public relations and a focus on corporate reputation take the lead.