By Alex Andrew, Account Director in Crisis and Reputation at The PHA Group
A brand’s reputation no longer exists in shop front windows or behind customer service desks, and since the evolution of social media with community boards and product review platforms, the reputation of a brand has been taken from the hands of the founder and their marketing teams and given to the consumer. Brands need to realise the control they have over their own reputation is limited and made up of one simple equation: capability and character. So, you’ve got to get it right. ‘Capability’, how efficient and competent you are at delivering a service or product to consumers is of course paramount to success, however if your moral or social qualities i.e., ‘character’ are perceived negatively, your capability is no longer in question and your reputation is vulnerable. It’s a skilful balance and one which even the world’s largest and most successful brands struggle with, requiring support from reputation specialists.
It may sound simple, but the first key to improving your online reputation is understanding the purpose of what you are offering and with that, transparency about it. Is your service or product credible and are you skilled at delivering it to consumers? Ensuring you communicate your strengths from all areas of operations, no matter how small, will reap rewards in the future, particularly when paired with transparency about how you plan to improve. No brand or CEO is perfect, and no one will ever believe that you are, so curating an online persona that shows success along with personable qualities of understanding failure with improvement, is step one. Consumers want brands they can align to and trust, so make sure you trust you, before asking someone else to.
How to communicate
Secondly, how you communicate to your audience can also influence their perception of your brand. For example, if a company makes a mistake that costs a consumer money, a robotic response to fix the problem isn’t a long-term solution that will maintain a positive reputation. Emotive responses, again with understanding, can improve how your customers think about your business. Nowadays we have numerous platforms available to communicate through, but choosing the right one can make or break your reputation.
Social media and traditional media can be quick and effective, but never underestimate the power of a personalised email too and with that, the importance of ‘the sender’. Similarly, if you do find you need to make an apology or company statement, have you considered the resulting impact not only on your customers but also on your employees about how you go about it – maybe your employees should have been made aware of the news before the rest of the world was?
Creating a communications strategy for each instance will prepare you for any potential negative scenarios; this can come in the form of a structured and proactive Q&A, in which you identify communication platforms, response processes, the responses themselves and spokespeople for each. However, should you find yourself on the back foot, ensuring you are prepared to react swiftly with the correct comment should also be considered. Working with a reputation specialist, you will be able to prepare for both these scenarios and further uphold the positive perception of your business.
Understanding your character
Covering your capabilities and how you communicate them is only part of this reputation equation. Character is the second element that needs to be considered to ensure a balance. Whilst consumers may understand that you can provide a good product or service, this can quickly become irrelevant if your social or moral qualities are taken into question.
Where do you stand when it comes to ethical sourcing, sustainability or the gender pay gap and have you considered how to communicate this stance to consumers? Whilst there are many topics to avoid as a brand – a reputation specialist can advise on this – there are still many which will support customer retention and help you to maintain a solid character perception. Sustainability has become a somewhat evergreen topic for brands and as consumers look to align with those that share similar values, this is a basic moral standpoint to ensure you are clear on. From ethical production to sustainable financing, the important decisions that drive growth will always come out in the wash, particularly if you’ve attempted to greenwash your business story.
For smaller brands, diving into the realm of sustainability can be overwhelming, but if you start small and clearly communicate your progress, as well as ambitions for improvements it will be positively received – this strategy can also work for several other areas of moral or social responsibility. Working with a PR or brand specialist can help you identify the core areas that clearly align to your business as well as the best way to communicate them.
Remember, your capability and character form your reputation, but one can easily outweigh the other, so a fine balance is always the key to maintaining and improving your online reputation.