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Reputation management has become a buzzword in the communication industry with public relations practitioners around the world selling it as a service to clients.
Reputation management undoubtedly remains one of the most important tools in any communication strategy, especially as digital continues to become a preferred method of communication. Peer recommendation also adds to the need for strong, professional reputation management in both the online and offline spaces.
However, the real question is whether or not PR practitioners are reinforcing the importance of a brand promise with their clients. As Henry Ford once said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”
Reputations need to be sculpted, built and managed from existing achievements and achievable brand promises instead of empty goals. PR has come a long way from being driven purely by press fluff and spin doctoring. To manage reputations that are not based on fact is a dangerous strategy, especially considering the intelligence and power of today’s consumer.
Fickle reputation management strategies in turn will create a bad rep for PR as a profession. It is no secret that as with an individual’s reputation, a brand wants to focus on its best assets. So how do you balance fluff with fact?
1. Know your limits and then defy them
A brand needs to know and understand its weakness very well and realise to what extent this can be combatted. That being said, it is important to know what the consumer sees as a weakness rather than merely what the brand team assumes is the weakness.
Assess how much you can actually change about the weakness. The old school ‘new and improved’ stamp on products just won’t cut it anymore. Instead, your reputation could actually be enhanced by admitting to your weakness, acknowledging your consumers’ inputs and saying, “Our brand has listened to what you said and we changed a, b and c to accommodate you.”
Unilever, for example, often takes consumer feedback into account for new product development. With the TRESemmé range, it only brings to market those products that are tailored to meet the needs of people in specific countries.
2. Understand and trust your audience
Nothing is more irritating than a brand not trusting my intelligence or understanding my interests. As shallow as it may sound, I don’t care if shoes are comfortable and I definitely don’t believe that pointed stilettos are comfortable. So why are brands still claiming to be something they are not?
If you understand your consumers and your brand influencers (for example popular bloggers who write about your brand or industry) you are able to communicate the true strengths of your brand accordingly. By trusting your consumers to apply their own intelligence you won’t have to mask your brand’s weakness – they are smart enough to know and make informed decisions.
No brand is perfect. Of course as consumers we realise that All Gold tomato sauce will not have the same nutritional value as 36 tomatoes – and All Gold has never positioned its popular sauce that way. Instead, it simply focuses on the fact that it tastes good. The result is that consumers are happy to use tomato sauce to enhance rather than replace meals.
3. Share the love
Reputation managers tend to be focussed on the negative. We track and monitor what people say about the brands we guard and as soon as we see a negative comment on a social media page, its crunch time. Our minds go into overdrive strategizing how we can stop this comment from spreading and how to combat the potential brand damage.
What about the good stuff? As much as consumers and online influencers are sharing the bad, they also compliment the good. This should be monitored, rewarded and shared. Reputation has little to do with what the brand team thinks about the product and everything to do with what the consumer thinks.
The digital space has given PR professionals the opportunity to strategically share the love for brands and thank their consumers for their support. In my opinion this is hardly maximised to its full potential and should go beyond a ‘like’ or comment on a social media platform.
While the formula for brand reputation management is more complicated than these simple three steps, in order to manage and maintain a good reputation the fundamentals are essential. It starts with the brand promise and what you are currently doing, not what you promise down the line.