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The five most common, preventable things that can damage a brand’s reputation
For any brand, the nirvana is to exude all the values you want to convey about your business and continuously attract the right customers. You may spend hours and hours crafting a brand image that seeks to serve this purpose, across web, social, email and advertising ensuring that the public knows who you are at just the click of a button. So, imagine the frustration to have all that hard work undone by an avoidable hit to your reputation.
Brand image and reputation translate to increased sales. If users find one negative article when searching for you, it could result in a loss of up to 22% of business. One of the most recent examples of the cost of a bad reputation may be seen here in the UK, with the Arcadia Group going bust just three years after CEO Phillip Green was embroiled in a pension scandal.
So, building and maintaining a favourable reputation is essential in optimising your results and revenue. However, with just one post able to cause irreversible damage to your business, you need to be on alert at all times to protect your image.
Often, firms fall into the trap on letting an easily avoidable issue becoming a much larger brand reputation hazard. Understanding these mistakes will enable you to take preventative action before they have left their mark.
Below, we have detailed the five most common and avoidable sources of brand damage and how to avoid them.
Many of us will have experienced occasions where we search for a brand to find trails of unhappy customers sharing their grievances. Understandably, it can be off-putting – and it is definitely not the image you want your brand to have. In the age of social media and digital, it is easier than ever for customers to share a complaint online. Unfortunately, these complaints often occur on the same channels prospective buyers may use to look you up.
Customer complaints can range in severity. It may start as a comment on one of your posts, before turning into a thread of posts between disgruntled customers. In some cases, the complaints may even be picked up by press or even feature on consumer rights programmes, such as Watchdog. If it gets to this stage, you risk potentially millions of people seeing it and consequently harbouring negative associations of your brand.
The best possible way to avoid complaints tarnishing your brand reputation is to provide a good service at all times. As businesses, our aim should always be to exceed expectations and offer an excellent experience. However, this is easier said than done, and, even with the most robust customer service approach, there will always be unhappy people or incidents that fall through the cracks.
When you do get a complaint, it is best to catch it early and respond appropriately. People often turn to social media when they struggle to get a response offline – so dealing with complaints via email and telephone will help to prevent those people from moving online.
If a complaint does progress to the online stage, you similarly must handle it promptly. While tempting, deleting complaints will likely lead to increased frustration as well as suggest your business has something to hide. Instead, respond publicly in an empathetic, considerate way while attempting to move the complaint offline (such as private messages or email). This example for John Lewis & Partners’ customer service account shows how it’s done:
It’s worth having a policy drawn up that dictates how you will deal with complaints on different channels. This way, you can maintain a consistent approach and ensure issues are dealt with in a timely and sensitive manner. By doing this, you can minimise the number of complaints making it to the public sphere and reduce the impact when they do – even turning a critic into a happy customer.
By doing so, your brand will be seen as helpful, proactive and considerate of your customers, rather than having a poor reputation for displeasing customers.
When you search a brand, the first things that come up are their entries on reviews sites. Upon searching ‘OlsenMetrix’, you can see our Google review rating comes up at the right-hand side, at the top of the page.
Similarly, it is common for entries on sites like Trustpilot and Trip Advisor to show up in the first results page when searching a brand. Many social media sites, such as Facebook, also incorporate reviews.
With review scores so prominent during search and the fact reviews are now a vital stage of the consumer journey, you want them to show you in a favourable light. So, if a customer is searching for you and finding 1-star reviews, it’s not a great look for your brand.
Like online customer complaints, negative reviews often materialise when a customer feels it is the only way to be “heard”. By aiming to provide outstanding customer service and dealing with complaints before they reach the review sites, you can limit the number of reviews.
When negative reviews do surface, it is once again essential to respond swiftly and publicly. This includes being compassionate, offering to deal with the problem offline and taking appropriate action to remedy the situation.
If your score has slipped due to negative reviews, you need to build it back up. Of course, every brand’s dream is full star ratings, but four out of five stars or higher can be seen as extremely good.
To boost your scores, you need to get positive reviews. Invite verified buyers to leave a review on behalf of your brand, particularly if you know they have had a favourable experience. Some brands even incentivise reviews, such as entering people into a prize draw, which is worth considering if you struggle to get traction. However, if a customer has had an exceptional experience, they may be inclined to leave a review without prompting.
By curating these positive reviews, you will boost your scores and balance out any negativity. It will also enable you to share the good experiences your customers receive with potential buyers, increasing sentiment towards your brand and encouraging them to buy.
The customer journey is increasingly digital. Over 40% of consumers now complete their entire journey on mobile, from research to purchase. So, imagine doing an online search for a brand you’ve heard about to find… nothing.
With so much emphasis on digital, there is little excuse for any business not to be online. Customers want to connect with you online, so to stand a chance of being found and used, you need to be present.
Not having this presence will undoubtedly impact your reputation. If a customer knows nothing about you, how can they be expected to think favourably about your brand? Instead, an empty search could suggest that you aren’t a real business, that you’re untrustworthy or that you simply don’t care enough to give people necessary information. So, being online matters.
SEO, social media, web, digital PR and review sites are all tools in every company’s remit, helping them improve awareness, so it is crucial to take advantage of these and build a digital brand image. You don’t have to be high-tech: instead, just focus on promoting yourself online while delivering value to prospects.
Building an online presence will enable customers to discover you easily, providing them with smoother journeys and helping them to see positive results about you. So, they’ll become aware of you for all the right reasons.
Lack of CSR
In recent years, consumers have become especially considerate of who they buy from. Following the coronavirus pandemic, this has enhanced, with more people choosing to make ethical purchasing decisions.
Due to this trend, it is fundamental that your business takes a moral, ethical and sustainable approach as part of your corporate social responsibility. This could cover many topics: having a ‘green policy’ across your business, paying and treating workers well, promoting and incorporating equality to your brand, following laws and generally doing the ‘right’ thing.
If you do not employ social responsibility, you can quickly find yourself amid a PR crisis. Who can forget the Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018, where Facebook was found to be breaching user privacy? Or Pretty Little Thing, who last year sold garments for pence, leading to criticism regarding fast fashion’s environmental and ethical impact?
Compare that with the likes of Ben and Jerry’s activism campaigns and ask yourself which brands you feel warmer towards.
Having good CSR also means having a grasp of public sentiment. Currently, ASOS are experiencing criticism after sharing news of their acquisition of the Topshop brand – resulting in the loss of many jobs due to store closures, even against a backdrop of economic recession. These are just some of the comments they received on their social post:
Maintaining a CSR policy that keeps your finger on the pulse of what the public values will not only prevent you finding yourself at the heart of PR crises, but also give you a way to create positive news stories. By doing so, you will get coverage in the press, enhance brand visibility, and improve sentiment and manufacture a positive brand reputation.
As part of your brand image, you should have a specific personality you want to convey. This will encompass your values and objectives, your target audience, your tone of voice and your website design, to name just a few. At the heart of this image, you will have traits you want people to associate with you, such as being knowledgeable, trendy, friendly, daring and so on.
Once you have outlined your brand image and personality, you need to ensure that every touchpoint encapsulates those values. This will help your customers learn precisely who you are and what they can expect from you. It will also help them to garner the associations with your brand that you want them to have.
Brand inconsistency will confuse your audience and make it unclear what they will receive when becoming your customer. For example, if your social media channels are full of memes and jokes, but your website gives a formal, corporate feel, customers may be confused as to whether you’re aiming for ‘fun’ or ‘serious’. As such, it is essential to have the right brand values shown in your content and interaction across all your online and offline channels.
An inconsistent brand image will also directly link to your reputation. Imagine an eco-friendly business that is found to use harmful, unsustainable materials in their products, or a brand aimed at young people that is found to exploit young workers. Instances like these would entirely contradict your brand image and undo your hard work, showing you as untrustworthy and likely leading to a PR scandal. Burger King felt the brunt of this when they launched their ‘plant-based burger’, for it to be found that their product wasn’t actually vegan or vegetarian.
Ensuring that your brand values are embodied in everything you do will avoid these harmful mistakes and prevent hits to your reputation. Instead, your customers will understand who you are and believe it, allowing you to craft a credible image.
Brand reputation matters. In a world where mistakes can go viral instantly, and customers are always watching, it is crucial to craft a favourable image that shows who you are, why you can be trusted and why a customer should choose you.
By maintaining a good reputation, you will be able to reap the benefit over time, including a loyal customer base, sales generation and positive sentiment. And, by understanding the common mistakes brands make, you can avoid irreversible, irreparable damage to your reputation.
If you need support in boosting your reputation through PR and outreach, we are here to help. With our expertise, we can get good news stories about your business in the right places, helping to target and convert new customers as well.