So, here’s the thing about branding: You’re doing it even if you think you’re not. You have a brand — even if you think you don’t. And, if you’re not actively managing your brand, it’s likely that one of your competitors or the marketplace will step in and manage it for you.

That’s the way it is. Because your brand, as the public sees it, is your reputation. It is all the things the people know about you all rolled up into a single marketplace opinion. It is the sum total of all of the conclusions that people make about who you are and what you stand for based on their direct and indirect exposure to your company.

Here’s the bottom line: Everything you do and everything you say all add up to tell the world who you are. Therefore, choose your actions and your words wisely.

Here’s how this works: Your customers experience your words and actions and log them in a running “report card” continually assessing what they think of you.

●If they have to wait in a long line, they will think you don’t care about their time.

●If you don’t communicate excitement about your product, they will think the product isn’t exciting.

●If you rush them off the phone, they will think you will rush through the services you deliver to them.

●If you set strict policies, they will think you are inflexible.

●If your Web site is outdated, they will think your ideas are outdated.

●So, if you want to improve your reputation, focus on your brand. Cultivate a discipline of ensuring that your words and actions represent what you truly care about and build the kind of relationships you want to have.

Think of branding as an ongoing, everyday focus on closing the gap between who you really are and who the marketplace thinks you are.

So next time you assess a new policy, product, advertisement — or the state of your offices, your waiting room/lobby, display shelves or your Web site — ask yourself this question: What am I telling the world about who my company is and what it can be counted on to deliver?

And then make the choice that builds the brand reputation you want and deserve.

Susan Waldman is co-founder and vice president of strategic services for ZilYen, a marketing firm based in D.C.