Ask anyone you know about a product or a service provided by a major corporation, and they will likely repeat a handful of facts. If you do a Google search afterwards, you will probably discover that while they got some of the basic details correct, they are highly likely to repeat a number of things that simply aren’t true.
What’s so remarkable about this test isn’t that it’s easy to get people to repeat false facts as if they’re real with absolute conviction, but that if you ask multiple people the same question, you’ll likely hear extremely similar mixtures of half-truths and total lies. For example, if someone tells you that they have a moral objection to buying products from Amazon.com, they may be completely unaware that they’re continuing to support the company by using Amazon Web Services by streaming movies or TV shows from Netflix.
Likewise, if someone says they are unwilling to do business via PayPal because of its association with controversial venture capitalist Peter Thiel, they likely don’t realize that he has had no involvement with the company for many years, but played a major role in helping to launch Airbnb, Spotify, and a number of other services they may say they have no problem with and use on a daily basis!
Though you may not be managing a company as big as Amazon, you can quickly see how powerful stories can be – regardless of whether or not there’s any truth behind them at all – once they take hold as part of a media narrative, across socials, or simply as a part of conversations in daily life.
We all rely on stories in order to relate facts and ideas to one another, and by telling your own – rather than letting others do it for you – you give yourself a massive advantage as you build, grow, and scale companies of all sizes.
This is especially true now. In our modern world, anyone has the power to publish negative articles, write bad reviews, or create content on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram that reflect poorly upon you or your business – and regardless of if they’re true, they can become a major hassle, no matter how absurd they are.
Autocomplete results for Ted Cruz following the prank
Consider, for example, the fact that during his candidacy for President in 2016, enough people flooded Google with searches for “Is Ted Cruz the Zodiac Killer” as part of a prank orchestrated by Twitter users that it became one of the top autocompletes for all users trying to find information about him, as well as a message that appeared on national television during one of the Republican debates. Though this story was a complete falsehood and was started as a joke, it shows how powerful misinformation can be – and how totally it can distract you from your goals.
Though platforms like Facebook say that they’re actively taking steps to combat “fake news,” a study released in November of 2019 by Avaaz, an advocacy group tracking misinformation, says that fake news isn’t just on the rise – it’s now reaching more people than ever. In fact, fake news stories were posted over 2.3 million times, had approximately 158.9 million views, and had received 8.9 million likes, comments, and shares – and that’s just stories that were completely debunked as false!
What all half truths and blatant lies have in common, however, is simple: they have the power to significantly alter how many, many people perceive the brands they associate with them, whether they be companies, political parties, or even entire countries. They all have some form of their own brand, and they all have an online reputation at stake – and this is why many of them rely on third parties for brand management services.
Before we move forward, however, we should ask an important question: what exactly is brand management, and why do so many people rely on brand management companies to help protect them online?
Though in one sense, brand management can be defined as a form of reputation management designed to help companies in particular, rather than people, it’s also not as simple as that. Brand management is working to influence and affect how your target audience sees and perceives your brand in a number of different ways. You want your target customers, prospective clients, or potential business partners to be able to ask a number of questions and enthusiastically say yes to all of them:
- Does this company seem credible?
- Do they offer value to their customers?
- Are their customers satisfied with their services?
- Do they see repeat business from past buyers?
- Do I know what this company’s mission is, what they stand for, and why I should believe in what they do?
Through strategic brand management, you have the power to make customers aware of who you are, to build a reputation that reaffirms that your customers like you, you show your customers that you bring value (and perhaps even happiness) into their lives, and, ultimately, that they cannot live without the value you provide.
If you know someone who is vocally critical of companies like Uber and Lyft who can’t imagine hailing a yellow cab ever again, they are living proof of the power of providing value in people’s lives in order to keep them loyal to a brand, even as it may be struggling with other forms of negative publicity.
Thus, by building a business with these four pillars in mind, you have the power to weather virtually any storm the world may throw at you – and continue to grow your business even when facing serious challenges.
So, let’s dig deeper into what you need to do in order to build a powerful, highly resonant, high-performing brand that can help you scale your business and continue to grow for years to come.
Understanding the Importance of Brand Awareness
Does anything about your brand matter – and, for that matter, do you even have a brand – if no one knows anything about it?
Brand awareness is what differentiates you from your competitors and helps you grow not just your audience, but your customer base. Consequently, it could very well be the single most important piece of the brand management puzzle, as nothing can exist without it.
By looking at market research and finding the groups of people that most need your products or services, you can find many different ways to potentially connect with your audience, convey a sense of personality, and forge emotional connections between you and your prospects, which can have a positive influence in the short and long-term.
However, this isn’t entirely a numbers or a data game. While that all helps, what ultimately helps make people aware of a brand isn’t just a product but a great story.
There are countless examples of this. Instead of drowning readers in statistics and generic statements about the qualifications of their team members, a major online eyeglass retailer uses their About Us page to tell the story of one of their founders’ struggles to replace their eyeglasses after losing them on a backpacking trip. They then use this as a jumping off point to discuss the fact that eyeglass prices are way too high and that they’re on a mission to democratize access to eyewear by making gorgeous, high-quality frames accessible at much lower prices. They also add that they donate a pair of eyeglasses for every pair sold.
This story can quickly demonstrate to prospective buyers that this company has their best interests at heart, cares about giving back, and is out to deliver a superior product at a much lower price (and why that isn’t scammy, scummy, or unreasonable). It’s also something that you can explain to a friend or family member in just a few sentences, making it a perfect informational tidbit with the potential to be easily shared in order to organically grow the brand.
If you can find a way to communicate what you do in a matter of sentences – not paragraphs – and answer their question, “What’s in it for me?” instead of simply telling people about why you think you have all the answers, you’re one step closer to positioning yourself for success.
To tell your story more effectively, look at who your best customers are and what they have in common. Ask yourself some of the following questions:
- How old are my clients?
- What types of services do they sign up for?
- Where are they located?
- Do they predominantly identify as male or female?
- What industries are they in?
- What specific problems do they need solved, and how can I help to solve them?
With this information in mind, compile a list of all the trends, threads, and throughlines you find. The key to this part of the process is to get specific. If there is a common trend in an associated industry, what niche are they working within? Do they all happen to be in the same geographic region?
Determining who your audience is – and who you want your audience to be – will help you chart your course and better understand not just who you need to make aware of your business, but how you can achieve this.
Why You Should Care About Your Brand’s Reputation
As your business grows, so will your reputation as a company. Whether that reputation is good or bad should depend entirely on if your customers have a good experience with you and your products or services, but this isn’t always the case.
Remember: anyone can publish a review on Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor, or Google Places, including competitors who might want a piece of your success. A piece of bad press or a negative review can have a severe impact on your business, and handling them incorrectly can have dire consequences.
For example, a bakery called Amy’s Baking Company appeared on Kitchen Nightmares, a reality TV show where chef Gordon Ramsey tries to help struggling restaurants turn their businesses around. He walked out mid-episode, unable to help them solve any of their problems, and the owners of the business went to war with Yelp reviewers, Facebook users, and Redditors. They had what was described as “a complete and total meltdown” across social media. While their episode became one of the most popular in the history of the series and turned their restaurant into a tourist attraction, it did so for all of the wrong reasons – and within two years, the business closed.
Their story proves one thing: adding fuel to the fire of negative PR will only spread the blaze further in the worst possible way. What will help repair the damage from a bad review isn’t to fight back, but to turn genuine negative feedback or constructive criticism into positive learning experiences and showcase your growth. Address concerns your clients or customers express to show them that you care about the services you provide and how they are perceived, and that you and your team are absolutely able to make things right.
In order to address concerns at all, though, you need to have a handle on what your internet presence looks like, especially at search. When you do a simple Google search for your business, does it yield positive, accurate results, or is it impossible to find genuine, good information about your business?
A great reputation builds trust and allows you to sell your products and services at a premium, making it all the more valuable to do this work as you continue to build and grow your business.
The Importance of Brand Equity
Have you ever decided to purchase Cheerios instead of supermarket brand toasted oats? What about a specific medication instead of the generic version, even if it’s been proven to work just as effectively? Or have you ever wanted a designer handbag, even though there are countless other bags you could use to carry your things? Have you ever told someone “I’ll Uber there,” even if you ended up catching a ride using a different car sharing service?
If yes, you have demonstrated the power of having a strong brand – and proven why brand equity matters. If customers will pay a premium for you – or, better yet, say the name of your product interchangeably with the entire category of product you manufacture (like when someone says to Google something, rather than to search for it), you’ve made a huge impact in your market – and are likely in a position to experience real success.
Many brand management firms can help you achieve this saturation and positioning by helping your company improve their storytelling, find ways to give back, put your core beliefs and mission statement into practice, and even simply use positive reviews to show curious readers that, yes, your solutions really are better.
On the flip side of this, when your brand suffers damaging press, it also makes it much easier for you to quietly control damage and repair anything that might make you look bad in the press, such as an incident of personal misconduct, a failed ad campaign, or a conversation on social media gone wrong.
For example, Pepsi launched an ad in early 2017 starring Kendall Jenner that was widely seen as tone-deaf and appropriating current events in American politics. After the campaign prompted an immediate and intense backlash, it was pulled from distribution and its rollout was halted altogether within less than one day. The company apologized, and years later this seemingly disastrous campaign is rarely discussed at all.
The Lasting Power of Brand Loyalty
There are many components of brand management that are largely handled through marketing, public relations, reputation management, and business strategists, and we’ve discussed them all above. Then there’s brand loyalty.
Unlike the other facets of brand management, loyalty is a matter of creating incredible experiences, delivering products and services that your customers absolutely love to use, and resolving any problems that may arise through efficient, kind, and compassionate customer service.
These things all lead to good reviews, positive word of mouth, and what many people call earned media – publicity opportunities that come from people excited about you, rather than opportunities created by a PR firm or through ad spend – and these earned media appearances can help your business thrive like almost nothing else.
Satisfied customers will become not just loyal customers, but brand ambassadors, and these people will help to provide you with positive posts on social media, product or business reviews, and even digital news write ups – all of which can create an avalanche of great press, making it much easier to win and impress prospective buyers.
To return to Uber as an example, the company has experienced a number of different public relations issues, yet it’s easy to find customers who still use Uber without any hesitation. If you asked them why they rely on it, they’ll tell you that they feel they can trust the service to get them home safely, that it helps to keep drunk drivers off the road, and that it’s still much easier than trying to call a cab company.
And why, for that matter, are so many people hesitant to call a car service that isn’t handled through Uber, Lyft, or another app? They probably remember what it was like to try to hail a cab years ago. They remember being subject to extremely unfriendly customer service, waiting 20 minutes and wondering if the car was going to come (and having no way to track it), being unable to predict the price of their ride, and the profound inconvenience of the entire experience. This both demonstrates how powerful brand loyalty is – and how a lack of brand loyalty gives a disruptor or even simply a competitor the chance to completely reshape an industry.
Strategic brand management requires a multi-step, multi-phase plan and a highly coordinated approach.
Brand management, marketing teams, and PR firms can help make customers aware of your business, but Status Labs’ reputation management team can help you create an online presence that radiates positivity and a great image that makes customers want to do business with you.
We can also help you solve any problems you may have with your current online through a number of different strategies and techniques. For example, we can help you educate customers about new directions your business may be taking and deprioritize old content by freshening up your brand with new writing and social media posts. By giving your customers a new way to think about you, you can tell your story on your terms and do real work to address any issues in the online space that your business may be currently struggling with.
Additionally, we can help your business turn over a new leaf through a full rebrand. With a new image direction, a redesigned website, and a new focus, you can continue to work to grow your business, but help to create a new, more positive brand image for customers and prospects to connect with. This may also help you reach new people, show them how you can solve major problems, and ultimately cultivate an audience that isn’t just excited about you, but is loyal to your brand when you need their support the most.
As you work to build a positive brand, or repair a tarnished one, it’s also important to keep in mind that there is no set schedule or timeline that can accurately tell you how long it will take to achieve your goals. Every business is different, and thus so is the timeline. Instead of thinking about an end date upon which you expect to have achieved everything you want, think in terms of an end goal.
Right now, just know that you should now have a firm grasp on what it means to manage your brand’s online reputation, and that’s a great place to start. Setting small goals can make the process of learning not just more rewarding, but easier to approach.