Huge advances in technology and the evolution of social media have helped consumers become exceedingly savvy and companies have lost a great deal of control over their messaging. Historically, organisations had a great deal more control over the brand messages they ‘pushed’ to consumers: in many ways, it’s now the consumers who define the brand. However, there are still things companies can do to protect their brands and build a positive online reputation.
The opinions of friends and strangers are incredibly persuasive when making purchasing decisions. Today, we’re better at recognising ‘spin’ and distinguishing the promise of a glossy website from the reality. We make swift judgements when comparing a shiny new holiday resort brochure and professional photos against TripAdvisor complaints about food or service and traveller’s own snaps.
Failure to recognise these changes is costly, whatever your size. The price of neglecting your online profile and reputation can run into tens of thousands of pounds, even for SMEs; it’s no wonder that negative online content is now a top worry for business owners. For multinationals, the costs can be far greater and undo decades of diligent and costly brand-building work.
So, what can you do to embrace the growing impact of approval marketing and changes in the customer communication dynamic? Here are six ideas to start with:
1. Participate – technology allows you to communicate directly with consumers through social media networks, forums, blogs and online videos. It also enables you to connect with niche groups of consumers you may not have reached before. For example, look at how Dunkin’ Donuts has embraced the power of Vine social videos to connect with sugar-loving consumers. Brands that will succeed in the future will adapt to changing communication rules and truly participate. It’s not about exploiting these channels, it’s about maximising the opportunity to engage with your audience and build trust.
2. Inform – new technology means you can connect with and inform customers regularly. A simple text to update someone on a shifting deadline can mean the difference between a happy or disgruntled customer. For example, easyJet has been rightly praised for its iPhone app, which delivers time-sensitive info to travellers in a useful way.
3. Be authentic – people buy from people. Social media is a great opportunity to bring your brand values to life through the way you interact, and the personality of your leaders and employees and by being natural and genuine. Don’t be corporate, be human – this insight alone explains the inexorable rise of ‘Brand Boris’ in the world of UK politics.
4. Nurture your brand – people often truly care about the brands they buy, making an emotional connection. It’s not just about avoiding ‘bad press’ anymore: make sure you are accountable for your impact on the world, live up to your vision, deliver on your brand promises and take responsibility for your existence.
5. Listen – voices can be heard by anyone with a wifi connection, when they were previously hidden, so use it for your own benefits – it’s free market research. You may no longer be in control, but you can contribute to the conversation and connect directly with your audience to reap great rewards. Listen and adapt.
6. Protect your online reputation – by making customer service and quality a key priority and responding quickly to any negative online comments. Hold your hands up to any mistakes and solve them promptly.