How To Overcome Reputation Challenges with Brand Marketing

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Drew Gula

No matter how hard you try, you can’t completely control how people perceive your business. 

In fact, it’s entirely possible (and all too common) for businesses to end up with a negative reputation. That could come down to past mistakes from inside the company, or outside influences, or a bad product launch. And because customer trust plays such an integral role in growing a business, those little mistakes can build up fast.

But whatever the reason is, no company should be forced to live with that scarlet letter forever.

There are certain marketing strategies to help businesses overcome a negative reputation. One approach in particular is tailor-made to be a lifeline, something to help brands pull themselves out of unpleasant situations.

And that reputation management superhero’s name is brand marketing.

Getting To Know Brand Marketing

“Brand marketing” can be thought of as everything you do as a brand to connect your identity and values with those of your audience. It goes beyond visual branding, like your logo and color palette and slogan. It means giving your business a strong brand association, something that evokes a positive reaction whenever people see or hear about your company.

People say there’s nothing new under the sun, and that extends to ad strategies too. The theory of brand marketing dates back the 1950s, and you could argue that merchants have tried to leverage their reputation for as long as humans have sold and traded goods.

But in 2020, brand marketing has become a growing trend thanks to iconic names like Apple, Nike, and Coca-Cola. You can feel a sense of swagger in how these brands present themselves, and that’s because they can almost predict how any individual person will respond to an ad or engage them on social media.

It’s obvious how valuable this can be. Whether you’ve got an old-fashioned brand looking to reinvent itself or a startup that wants to pivot into a new industry, brand marketing can be a powerful solution. It puts you back in control of the conversations about your company, and it gives you new opportunities to shape how people perceive your brand reputation.

Dealing With Negative Reputations

Warren Buffett famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” That has become increasingly true as we move further into the digital marketing age.

Social media constantly creates new opportunities for engagement, specifically through organic conversations. However, opening up that door relinquishes control of those conversations. Once other people start talking about your company, it’s almost impossible to regain your grip on the steering wheel.

dealing with negative reputation

Word-of-mouth marketing has become just as important now as it was in ancient times. 74 percent of people rely on it to help inform their purchasing decisions, and more than 80 percent of Americans will go out and look for recommendations before they buy anything.  

You could argue that those statistics make word-of-mouth almost more important than paid ads, email copy, or keyword research. So if you’re trying to overcome a bad brand reputation, things can start to feel like pushing a boulder up the side of Mount Everest.

But there are a few easy steps to take, at least as a starting point:

  • Engage in conversation: The only way to be aware of the dialogue about your brain is to get involved. You can find any number of social media listening tools that help you stay aware of conversations about your brand and where they happen. Even if you aren’t talking, you should always be listening.
  • Plan your responses: Think of a contingency plan for when things go wrong. Missed deadlines, accidental emails, and unhappy customers are unavoidable. So be proactive and think of how you’ll handle those situations when they happen. People appreciate a quick and honest response, even when things go wrong.
  • Ask for feedback: People tend to pay attention to negative reviews, but positive feedback is always available if you look for it. So ask for — and even reward — user feedback. Share testimonials with your audience. Post them on your home page, your email footers, and anywhere else you can. Word-of-mouth marketing can be a force of nature in shaping how people perceive your brand.
  • Work with customers: Part of using feedback is investing into customer service. It’s not enough these days to have a chatbot to deal with complaints. People expect to interact with another human, particularly when they are trying to deal with a pain point. If you want to avoid receiving a new complaint, you’ll have to put in the effort behind the scenes. And the faster you can solve the problem, the happier the customer will be.
  • Show some patience: This one isn’t particularly fun. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was any successful brand. Building a reputation from scratch takes time; rescuing a bad reputation can take even longer, because you’ll have to repair the damage and also build a new foundation for the future. Give yourself the time to do that, and do it well. 

Integrating A Brand Marketing Strategy

Maybe you work for a business that stumbled a bit in 2020. Maybe a bad choice led to lots of social media outrage. Or maybe you want to look ahead and protect yourself, building up a brand that can withstand any hiccups that might arise in the future.

The obvious question is, “How can I use brand marketing to protect my company?”

At its core, brand marketing means changing your focus. Advertising becomes the vehicle you use to connect with people, but the goal is more about engagement than email capture or sales numbers. Yes, a business needs sales to survive. But this particular strategy is all about building relationships.

To do that, you’ll probably need to shift big pieces of your model or structure. One key goal of brand marketing is to build content in a way where each piece achieves a single, very specific goal. Defining those criteria will help you maximize the potential, since content becomes more about targeting a specific audience rather than a general one.

You’ll also need to show some brand awareness. That could mean owning up to past mistakes, apologizing when things go wrong, or looking for new ways to let people see behind the scenes of your business. (As you can imagine, this is where a stellar social media plan can really shine.)

admit your mistakes

Every interaction should strengthen your relationship. And because brand marketing is more about leaning into a reputation, you’ll come across as authentic. There’s nothing overtly “marketing” about that kind of language and strategy — it’s just an organic dialogue between your business and people who want to engage with you.

All of that also means you can be the “cool guy,” the Nike in your particular niche. And once you can rely on word-of-mouth marketing, you can cut down your email sends and start respecting people’s inboxes in the way that you want to be respected by brands you use.

This hands-off approach is a big deal. It’s the finish line of your conversion into brand marketing, freeing you to manage your reputation without the fear of any lingering negativity.

But most importantly, it means you’ve regained control of the conversations around your business. And that’s worth all the money and time you invested along the way.

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