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Why brand reputation is your most important asset, and how to improve it

Your brand reputation is how people, including your prospective and current customers, perceive your brand, company or organisation. What words spring to mind when they think of you? Are you seen as expensive or good value for money? Friendly or formal? And crucially, do they trust you enough to buy from you? Brand reputation monitoring allows you to understand the answers to the questions, and brand reputation management can help you improve your standing.

Women grabbing an item from a shelf

We live in a world of unparalleled business competition. Ecommerce is booming and we have greater choice and access to shops and providers than ever before. Social media has also democratised the media landscape. The result of all this? It’s never been easier to make—or break—a reputation. A scary prospect, since brand reputation affects almost every aspect of a business, including:

  1. Sales—your reputation influences how likely consumers are to buy from you
  2. Staff satisfaction and turnover—people want to work for companies they can be proud of
  3. Partnerships—if you have a good name, your peers will want to work with you
  4. Competition—your competitors will capitalise on areas of weakness
  5. Share price—your image impacts the stock market

Your brand reputation influences how likely people are to buy from you, become repeat customers and increase their purchase amount. This primarily comes down to trust, as well as brand awareness. People need to trust the company they’re buying from. Especially when they’re buying online. Because they’re entrusting them with their personal and financial data, as well as trusting them to deliver the product or service as requested and resolve any issues that crop up. And their experience will influence not only customer retention, but also how likely they are to recommend you to others.

People want to work for a reputable company, one they can be proud of. This is particularly true of Gen Z, who increasingly prioritise organisational purpose over salaries. If your staff don’t think much of your company, they’re unlikely to put in much effort, leading to low productivity and poor work quality. Your organisational image also affects what they’ll say about you, both offline and online, which can further tarnish your name.

Then there’s the fact that unhappy staff are also more likely to leave. And because staff turnover is costly, a bad rep can affect your bottom line.

This one isn’t as obvious, but your organisation’s reputation among your peers is also important. With a great reputation, complementary companies may be interested in working with you. And these collaborations can open up new markets and boost sales.

Trust us, you’re not the only one keeping tabs on your reputation. Your competitors are too. This allows them to see what you’re up to, where you’re doing well, and where you’re not. And they’re likely to capitalise on any areas of weakness. An excellent example of this is the iconic Burger King advert that pictured a mouldy Whopper. While a risky move, they played off the McDonalds reputation for using large amounts of preservatives in their products.

Share prices move in line with consumer and investor sentiment, which are in turn linked to brand reputation. For instance, the Volkswagen emissions scandal saw its share prices plummet by more than 18%.

What do you want people to think about your organisation? How do you want to be perceived? What are your organisational values? While senior management or the PR team may have a handle on this, that’s not enough. Your entire workforce needs to know. They also need to be clear on the tone of voice you should be striking, and what is and isn’t appropriate to comment on publicly.

You also need to keep up to date on current affairs. Especially in the markets you operate in. This applies to all staff that are responsible for brand messaging. By being aware of global issues, you can publish content that’s sensitive and in tune with reality and attitudes, without newsjacking or offending. This can be a fine line. One that even the largest of companies can end up crossing. Take for instance Pepsi’s infamous ad featuring Kendall Jenner—one of the biggest brand reputation missteps in recent times.

Make sure you get it right by giving your social media, marketing and senior leadership teams PR training. Or ask them to run potentially sensitive issues by the PR team. In the same vein, any staff that are likely to speak with the media should receive media training.

Deliver on quality. Whether you sell bespoke suits, groceries or online courses, it’s quality that makes for happy and repeat customers. It also needs to be consistent. To achieve this, you need to have top notch quality assurance, quality monitoring and customer feedback processes in place.

You can’t improve your brand reputation without monitoring. Monitor what customers are saying about you on social media or in reviews and monitor the news for important mentions. Use sentiment analysis to understand whether general opinion is positive, negative or neutral, and track trends. Then you can adapt your messaging in response. And when something goes wrong, you can react quickly and run damage control.

Often, it’s not actually a negative review or complaint that makes or breaks a brand’s reputation. It’s how they respond.

When a customer uploads a negative review for a restaurant to Google Maps, citing poor customer service, they want to see their feedback acknowledged. Rather than brushing it under the carpet or listing excuses, savvy restaurant managers will apologise to the customer, take on board the feedback and explain what they’re doing to make things better in future. And all this should happen directly within Google Maps.

This way, you’re showing customers you care about their opinion, and are always striving to do things better. You’re turning the negative into a positive.

Take the initiative and ask current and potential customers and staff for their opinions. One easy way of doing this is to regularly survey them—use a brand perception survey and SurveyMonkey Audience to gather feedback from potential customers, or a satisfaction survey for staff. And listen to what they have to say. Prioritise and take steps to improve in those areas. Then show them what you’ve done. Companies often forget this step, but it’s a valuable way of inspiring loyalty.

Surveying your staff and target markets are also a useful way of making sure you stay up to date with their changing needs and wants. For instance, priorities for both consumers and employees have changed in the COVID-19 context. And Gen Z staff have different priorities than previous generations, valuing organisational purpose and work-life balance over salary.

Customer reviews are another key way of seeking feedback. You can also use their feedback as a marketing tool, demonstrating you value your customers and helping to bolster trust.

Once you understand what people think of your company, you can use this knowledge to your advantage. Run marketing campaigns to show how you’ve improved in specific areas. Or to drive home your areas of strength. The message can be either implicit or explicit, such as the classic “you said, we did” format where you list the feedback and what you’ve done in response.

So far, we’ve covered the definition of brand reputation and how you can improve it. But if your competitors are already doing all of this, how can you stand out from the crowd? To do that, you need to go beyond the expected and the run-of-the-mill. You need to come up with an innovative way of showing your customers and your staff that you care.

A great example is the CEO of fashion retailer Kurt Geiger giving up his salary for a year to help his business through the COVID-19 crisis, while also implementing initiatives to support NHS workers. But it doesn’t need to be high tech or require a huge budget to be effective. Sometimes, simple is just the ticket.