I’ve spent a large part of my professional life dealing with the realities of having conversations with customers. In every type and size of company imaginable. And there is one single reality that holds true:
Your brand is what your customers say it is… regardless of your best Marketing and PR efforts.
With the rise of Social Media this reality is even more true. Not because you ever really controlled you brand – but because word of mouth just got global, social and the biggest megaphone you could have ever imagined.
It used to be a single pissed off customer might only impact 10 or 20 people over the course of 3 months. Now a single dissatisfied customer with a Twitter account or Blog can reach hundreds of people in a single day. And, as a rule, if you are doing (or not doing something) that makes customers mad, you do it to more than one per day.
So feel free to create all the marketing material and press releases you want lauding your superior product or service and you commitment to great customer service. In the old world that might have worked. But today it simply can not compete with the conversations your customers and prospects are having about you. You are what they say you are.
If you want to really impact your brand – and how it is perceived by your customers and prospects, get in the conversation.
Your PR and marketing staff will tell you to invest in Social Media Monitoring tools like Radian6 and Techrigy to gather Social Media data to analyze for your next marketing campaign. And I concede – monitoring what is said about you is a positive first step. The challenge with this strategy is that you are still trying to control the conversation.
What you need to do, what you should be doing is participating in the conversation.
Provide Solutions, Inform, Listen and Respond
The most important branding you do (and can do) is in the conversations you have with your customers and prospects.
Think I’m nuts? Great – Let’s look at two examples:
Motrin released an ill conceived ad. And it isn’t that they didn’t realize their mistake – it was that they weren’t engaged in the conversation. Because of that there were 4 days to allow the controversy to reach significant proportions.
ScottMonty from Ford is actively engaged in Social Media. And because of that he is able to react in real (or near real-time) to negative and positive brand messages. This allows Ford the opportunity to actively engage in the conversation and refute false perceptions and reinforce positive messages.
Analyzing the data and reacting is about how fast you can “clean up the mess”. It pre-supposes you can megaphone your brand message and shout down those who have a different point of view.
By participating in conversations about your brand you have the ability to prevent situations where the perception becomes the story. You have the ability to turn negative experiences into positive brand affinity moments that increase your customer loyalty and enhance your brand in the eyes of those watching. And in this new Social Media world we are all watching.