Your brand is being created with or without you

Brands are dynamic. Customers use our products and services. They like or dislike their experience and they say so, publicly. This type of customer engagement directly impacts your brand. In this way, your brand is being created with or without you. You can’t control it. What you can control is how you deal with it.

You’ve probably heard the saying “feedback is a gift”. It’s also a gift that you can’t return or exchange if you don’t like it. It’s yours to deal with whether you like it or not. Since most brands have some sort of an online presence today, customers have a very public option when providing feedback. They can leave their comments on your 1-800 customer feedback line or send their concerns to some anonymous email. More likely, however, they will post their issues to a website, blog or user group.

When customers provide this type of public, direct feedback, we basically have two options:
1. Engage – and hopefully influence the nature of the discussion
2. Remain passive – and let the discussion continue without us

I encourage companies to engage in the discussion. That’s the point of the internet, social media and online communities. We have the capability to have these discussions in real time with many more customers than we could have ever have done in the past.

Yet, there are hundreds of examples where companies have had negative comments appear online about their products and they chose not to engage, or even acknowledge, the feedback.

In most cases this sort of “head in the sand” approach doesn’t work out very well for the companies involved. They appear aloof, disconnected and uncaring. Customers post comments on corporate blogs and social media sites, and the damage is done. Companies then spend a ton of money and time trying to “manage their online reputation” – which usually means feeding good content into these sites in order to push the negative stuff off the first few pages of search results.

While this may work in some cases, it seems to be that it is a lot more effective, not to mention efficient, to just engage in the conversation to begin with! Here are some ideas to help you proactively manage your brand online:

  • Pay attention: create Google alerts for your company name, brand names, etc. Monitor where you brand is being mentioned and in what context. It’s next to impossible to influence how the brand is being represented if you don’t know where you’re being mentioned.
  • Be active: identify the key places where your brand is being mentioned and get involved. Participate in discussions relevant to your brand but not where you are directly mentioned. You will get insights into the tone of the conversations and understand more how to position your brand appropriately.
  • Acknowledge feedback: when someone posts something negative, acknowledge their issue. Let them know you heard what they were saying. Explain your response, but don’t try and justify your position, as you will only serve to annoy them further.

Don’t get caught in the hype

So…you have an exciting strategy; your messages are relevant and consistently integrated throughout your brand and all customer touch points. Now you need an actionable marketing plan that delivers your message to your customers in ways that will increase the chance that they will pay attention, and ultimately buy your stuff.

There is a lot of talk about the latest new trend (Twitter, vblogs or who-knows-what’s-next) and the coolest new technology. However, these things are only useful if they are being used by your target customers. This point bears repeating…these things are only useful if they are being used by your target customers. This is the kind of thing that sounds so simple – it is common sense. Unfortunately, it isn’t commonly practiced.

It is critical to the success of your brand that you identify customer-preferred communication vehicles and prioritize those above things that are “really hot” at the moment. While they may be the latest fad, they might not generate the results you want.

Different marketing tools are good at doing different things – think screwdrivers and hammers. This is, again, why it is so important to know what your goals and objectives are so that you can select the right tools for the job. The right balance between online and offline marketing vehicles ensures that you are reaching your target customers in a variety of ways which will improve your overall results – whether they are to increase awareness or to generate demand.

For example, if you are a start-up just launching your company, you need to generate awareness that you exist. PR is a very cost-effective tool to do this. You also need a website to explain what the company does. To get the ball rolling you might launch an email and/or direct mail campaign with an introductory offer so that customers connect their business problem with your company. If you are a small company trying to generate demand, a combination of webinars and SEO with speaking engagements and telemarketing could prove to be very effective at generating quality leads. It is important to focus on the quality of the lead rather than the volume generated as the conversion rates tend to be much higher.

It is easy to get excited about the latest technology and cool marketing techniques. Be careful, and remember that the end result is to achieve the business objectives – which is typically to sell more of your stuff. This means you don’t need to do everything, but you need to strategically select a few key vehicles and do them exceptionally well.