The landscape in which brands now operate has changed beyond recognition. A brand’s reputation can now be driven and developed completely by its customers, prospects and other audiences. This change has the potential to mean newly empowered ‘users’ can have a major influence on a business’s future.
This shift is the convergence of significant factors, each laying a foundation for the next, and together constructing an environment where responsibility for brand reputation has been moved.
Through technology we can now engage instantly with one another, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing. The internet and social networks, and our access to them via increasingly powerful and portable smart devices means that we never need be out of sync with what’s happening. We are able to participate in the conversation wherever, whenever, and on whatever subject we choose.
So, information becomes a currency in its own right. Our thirst for information quenched by the ability to instantly access whatever we feel we need, drives a new level of awareness. But it’s more than being able to ascertain what information we need from reputable sources. We are becoming our own publishers, and everything from the information we demand or originate, to our own thoughts, opinions, feelings and emotions, are on offer and can be shared. The sphere of influence we each possess is tremendous and growing all the time. Anyone can be an expert.
The third element in this changing dynamic involves brands. Against a backdrop of constant customer conversation, organisations are now under unparalleled scrutiny. From a slip in customer service to details of fraud, nothing is sacred. Organisations and brands exist under a microscope, and whether the story is fact, fiction or a blend of the two, the story spreads far and wide, instantly.
Brands no longer control their own reputations. Thus the impact of these new reputation rules means a typical objective like ‘raising awareness’ is no longer possible in isolation. So how can a B2B brand change its approach to small business marketing and combine the need for awareness with that of the need to manage its own reputation?
1. Set new objectives
This is hugely overlooked, step. Raising awareness through the visibility of a logo and creative identity is just one part of a much more complex, but potentially far more rewarding approach. Now the idea is your customers and prospects have a conversation, so you need to consider how you can support the positive parts of this conversation, while addressing negative elements in an appropriate way.
2. Concentrate on your core
There remains a vital role in creating and maintaining your brand core. Be clear on its values and mission, the messages that are relevant to particular audiences, and of course the identity that fronts it all up. When you and others in your business do have the opportunity to communicate to your audiences you’ll all be coming from the same brand point of view.
3. Understand the new landscape
Much has already been written about the ‘rules of social media engagement’, but remember it’s not just social media that has changed the way external reputation can impact a brand. It’s essential that your brand can respond to customer and prospect queries, questions and issues as swiftly and fairly as possible. Provide even one customer with anything less than your best service, and their negative view of the brand could cause countless issues. As a rule of thumb it’s quicker and more cost effective to prevent issues before they arise.
4. Take a strategic approach
B2B brands, especially from small businesses, have a range of tools under the small business marketing banner that are vital for raising awareness e.g. sponsorship. These tools are still very important, but the way they’re used should change. Instead of sponsoring an event as a means of increasing visibility of your brand identity and as corporate entertainment, how can the activity help to share what is positive about your brand to a wider audience? Arts sponsorship used by many B2B organisations, is a way of implying commitment to creativity and the arts.
5. Watch and listen
Watch what your audiences are saying. A service issue and the resulting negative impact on reputation need to be identified and addressed. Similarly if the brand is being advocated this can be capitalised on. In the case of social media, even simple social media monitoring can be valuable as a first step.
But, building a brand and reputation guidance strategy is more complex than a few tips can outline, and the response will be different for every B2B brand. What we all need to understand is the landscape, influence and importance of the factors above. can support a new approach to brand strategy that goes beyond awareness building, and reinforces reputation and long-term governance. While the ability to ‘control’ reputation has changed, the opportunity then comes through understanding your customers and other relevant audiences, as a means of harnessing their support and advocacy - another tool to support a positive reputation.
Many brands are looking to employ these, and other, activities as long term brand and reputation tools with the brand’s values in the mix. Commercial reality is becoming even more evident. Without an approach to countering this growing challenge, organisations put profitability and long-term growth at risk.
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