Tag Archives: brand reputation

In Brands We Trust, Or Maybe Not

in brands we trust

I look at the recent debacles of Brian Williams and Bill Cosby and I am reminded how important trust is not only for people but brands too. Before the public learned that Brian Williams had embellished the truth, Williams was ranked as the 23rd most trusted celebrity in the country. After his statements about being in the middle of combat war were questioned, he fell to 835 on the list (according to The Marketing Arm). (Source) Bill Cosby had the persona of a great family man and positive role model. Then a plethora of drugging and rape allegations resurfaced. Rightfully so, his persona and brand are shattered.

What is the take away for marketers? Your persona, or brand can be destroyed by one false step. Your trust can be demolished by one bad move. Trust is something you earn and win perpetually. You always need to work to establish and sustain trust from your target audience.

I believe that brand trust is exponentially more important today than days prior to digital technology. Prior to the ubiquitous use of digital technologies and devices, almost all information about a brand and their products and services came from, and were distributed by the brand. Today, that is not true. If you do a search for a product or service on the Internet and social platforms, you will find more people referencing the brand than communication coming from the brand. Brand reputation and trust is no longer established by a fabricated company design by a company, but rather is in the hands of the democratic republic of digital users.

So given this reality, brands must now have a strategy for managing and influencing their reputation and trust factor. I really like an approach I read in a recent blog post …

Review regularly – Regular auditing of brand perception will help to assess threats and weaknesses – give you some foresight around areas to watch and emerging risks.
Show empathy – It is important to update your audiences on a regular basis and act to show that the safety and well-being of your customers is your number one priority.
Talk naturally – Consumers tend to respond badly to overwrought messages that sound too corporate or too familiar online.
Act fast – The first 24 hours of a crisis are when people are turning to each other for answers. Be ready to respond.
Become the hub of the issue – Since you know that people are looking for information on a topic, become the hub of all information. While you can’t control the conversation, make sure your opinion is prominently seen and demonstrates authority.

There are a couple of things I would add to the bullet points above. First off, be truthful. It is easy for bogus claims and statements to be questioned and verified as false when you have so many looking and watching what you are doing. And if even one digital user unearths unsubstantiated statements, he/she has a strong way of voicing their concerns on platforms that move information to a large audience at lightning speed.

The second element I would add to the bullet points is that companies that look to win over a target audience should consider supporting a social cause that makes sense for their business. 90% of Americans are more likely to trust brands that back social causes.

While I was doing some research on issues related to brand trust, I found a very interesting point highlighted in a blog post by Bruce Turkel. In his article “Brian Williams is Toast” he talks about Bill Clinton lying when he said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Today, Clinton is one of the world’s most beloved politicians. Why wasn’t his trust destroyed? It comes down to expectations. Everyone expects politicians to lie so when he did so it really was not a big deal. Conversely, we expect journalists to not only be objective, but even more importantly, we expect them to be completely honest in their reporting. As a brand, ask yourself, what does my audience expect from me and how can I make sure I deliver. Consider Zappos, a well-respected and trusted brand. One of their company mottos is to “exceed expectations” and they deliver on this promise.

If you want to see a list of the most trusted brands, consider checking out “The 120 Most Trusted Brands” and “Top Brands: Most Trustworthy” among other resources you can find on the web. Loyalty goes hand and hand with trust. Within marketing the “net promoter score” often used as a metric to measure brand loyalty. The net promoter score takes into consideration brand “promoters,” “passives,” and detractors and applies them to the model. You can learn about NPS here and here.

The reason why I say brand trust is so much more important today than in previous years are due to digital technologies and platforms. These technological advancements have strongly changed the perceptions and behaviors of our culture as they relate to the product and services they purchase. I used the Brian Williams and Bill Cosby examples of losing trust because of the widespread coverage. But remember, your failures that lead to losing brand trust can diminish your reputation and destroy you just like the Williams and Cosby scenarios have killed their reputation, persona, and brand. Have a strategy and plan to continually win and sustain trust from your audience.

Make It Happen!
Social Steve


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Filed under brand communication, brand marketing, brand reputation, brand trust, brands, Social Steve, SocialSteve

The Marketing of Purposeful Brands

In this day and age of fierce competition your brand advantage may be the demonstration and marketing of being a purposeful brand. As students of product marketing, we are always taught that you should have a key beneficial differentiation in what is offered. While this continues to be true, differentiation may be difficult as more and more brands have parity. In any event consumers increasingly determine brand preference by assessment of what the brand stands for. We all want to feel good about the companies, products, and services we support. We like to know that the brands we purchase have a purpose in our community or the world and they are not solely driven by profit.

Let’s look at a few brands.

Target in The Community
Take Target for example. Target demonstrates corporate social responsibility by donating 5 percent of their profits to communities. That comes out to $4 million each week.

Dove Inspirations
There need not always be a monetary aspect of purposeful brands. As the next example, consider Dove and their Dove Inspiration program. Dove is committed to helping young women grow with a most positive self-image. Dove Inspiration is a program that focuses on confidence as the source of beauty. They are committed to building positive self-esteem and inspiring all women and girls to reach their 
full potential.

Citi Bikes
Brand purpose can be even more subtle. Here in New York City, Citi Bank has partnered with The City for a bike program that has literally changed many people’s lives. Bike kiosks are set up throughout the City and people can rent bikes for one-way trips. This is helping a number of commuters. And notice the bikes are “Citi Bikes,” not “City Bikes.” A very nice community investment.

The three examples above show that brand preference can be an element of care. Discount shopping is a tight market. Personal care is saturated. Finance companies often have very poor reputations. And these three brands decided to step beyond their core product marketing to deliver programs that can drive greater audience acceptance.

I would consider the programs and acts of brand purpose under the new leadership of marketing executives. After all, driving brand preference is the ultimate goal of marketing. Consider how you can deliver purposeful brand initiatives to help drive your brand preference.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve


Filed under behavior, brand communication, brand marketing, brand reputation, brands, community, marketing, social marketing, Social Steve, SocialSteve

Holding Brands Accountable via Social Media

What you say matters. Your voice is stronger than ever. And I think you should use it.

Let me ask you a question … when you have a problem with a product or service, are you apt to share that experience on your Facebook page, tweet it out, or write a review/comment on a social channel? What about the same question if you are pleased or a brand exceeds your expectations?

About a month ago, I wrote the article “Social Media Reviews – Value, Morals, and Ethics.” It talked about the value and (suggested) need for brands to incentivize customers to write a review for their product, but to stay on the right side of ethics when doing so. My position today takes another perspective. I am here today to tell you that you as consumers have an obligation (OK – maybe that is a bit strong) to share your thoughts and perspectives on the products and services they purchase.

While doing some research for a project this past week, I came across a real eye opening statistic. According to the “Public Opinion on US Supermarkets on Social Media” report, “social media users posted 96,667 opinions on supermarkets in the last 12 months, which they shared 105,692,968 times.” Now granted, the 96,667 highlights that the supermarket vertical is a stronger lager in the use of social media. But the measly number of opinions that were posted was shared a whopping 105,692,968 times … an average of 1,000 times for each opinion. That is powerful.

Sure I have used twitter to comment on service, but that was only when my (then) cable company pissed me off so bad that it was my way of screaming. And yes, I have written a book review, but that was one I received a free copy and promised to do so. By and large, I am a social media voyeurist when it comes to product comments and reviews. I love to look, but I am not really active at all. I am sure this is true for many of you.

I think the time has come for both you and me to change. I think we owe it to our fellow consumers to help to be the ears and mouth of deserving and undeserving brands. When I look at the number of opinions and shares in the report, it says two things to me. 1) A small number are carrying the weight, and 2) so many of us really care.

We all want the brands behind the products and services that we purchase to be accountable. Reminds me a bit of the first time I voted in an election. Prior to my inaugural time, I was lackadaisical. I believed my vote did not amount to anything. Then, one year, I finally had outrage with regards to the political decisions coming from the White House. Change was imperative. I think many people felt that way that given year. I ended up waiting in line for two hours to vote and had no regrets.

We all need to be more active sharing our thoughts on the products and services we buy and spend our hard earned money on. It is time to be counted. It is time to hold brands accountable. It is time to reward those that deliver value. It is time to crush inferior offerings. Are you in?

Make It Happen!
Social Steve


Filed under brand reputation, brands, customer relations, social media, social reviews, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve

Facebook and Audience Behavior

Nothing is more important than understanding your audience and their behavior. The best marketers start there and then create strategies to build awareness, consideration, sales, loyalty, and advocates for their brand (in that order).

Technology does not matter. How people use technology matters. Social media does not matter. How people use social media matters. Facebook does not matter. How people use Facebook matters.

How many times have we heard the proclamation “We need a Facebook page” without the deliverer having any insight as to how their audience will use the platform? What would provoke someone to “Like” their brand and even more important, stay engaged with the brand.

I can guarantee you I can get you one million fans/likes in a very short time … offer a free iPad to anyone that “likes” your Facebook page. So once you have one million fans, is that success, or is success getting as many “likes” as possible that stay engaged with your brand? Engaged fans – that is the audience behavior we want for success.

So how do you keep fans engaged? Well, the first thing is to keep the content fresh and continuously changing. You should try to change out content daily and let your fans know of the new content mentioning it on your wall posts. “Fan gating“ is a good way to increase your fans and keep them viewing your content on your Facebook tab. The tab should have exclusive content and is only viewable if a person “likes” your brand. Exclusive content can include unique articles, photos, polls, quizzes, videos, sweepstakes, image galleries, and other things of that sort.

The cadence (how often and when) of your postings has ramifications on your audience engaging with your brand. Other things that drive fan engagement is making sure you manage, moderate, and respond to comments on your wall, and prompting fans for their own UGC (user generated content) and letting fans decide on some aspects of your content by giving them choices. Buddy Media put out a good report titled “Strategies for Effective Facebook Wall Posts: A Statistical Review” which you can download to get some guidance.

At the end of the day, no one strategy fits all brands. You need to measure responses of your audience. You can use Facebook Insights to track fans and interactions over a period of time as well as some other parameters. (See “A Beginner’s Guide to Facebook Insights”) What Facebook Insights does not give you is Interactions per Fans. This is the most important number to track. Everyone wants to see a high number of fans, but this number is only important when looking at interactions/fans at the same time. Yes, you want to grow your fans, but grow with fans that engage with you. Another useful source is “How to Measure Facebook Page Engagement.”

Something else to think about is how users “experience” your brand on Facebook. The Facebook experience is very different than a website experience and understanding this is key. The main issue is that users typically experience your brand presence or are alerted to your new content on your Facebook tab from their newsfeed as opposed to going to the brand Facebook page wall. Thus, it is important to recognize that the individuals that “like” your brand may not go to your fan page. You either need to deliver compelling content on your wall (so it hits the individuals’ newsfeed) or alert your fan base of new content on your Facebook tab by mentioning it on your wall. You need to spark a reason why your fans should visit your Facebook page by posting compelling content on your tab. The tab can include exclusive content or interactive features such as polls or quizzes. You must be conscious to keep the contents fresh and updated on a regular basis if you have a Facebook tab.

There are a number of companies that can assist in the development of these tabs either as a service or providing tools for easy do-it-yourself implementation. Some companies worth checking out include Buddy Media, Shoutlet, North Social, and Involver.

You also need to integrate Facebook widgets on your content that appears on your website and/or blog. Hopefully you are aware of the Facebook “Like” button. By including this button on individual content posts you allow your readers to virtually broadcast that they enjoyed and “liked” the particular content piece to all their Facebook friends. So if someone reads your article, “likes it”, and has 150 friends on Facebook, they are referencing it to 150 peoples … nice advocacy.

Facebook also recently launched a “Send” button. The Facebook “send” makes it easier to notify your friends or family than email as you don’t have to remember email addresses, but simply look from a list of people in your social network.

Now, once again, I want to emphasize the importance of understanding audience behavior when they use these two buttons embedded in their content. When someone “likes” something, it is an expression and subconscious statement of who they are. “I like this band, movie, TV show, book, etc.” These declarations are personal bumper stickers. It is a broadcast and part of the formulation of one’s personal brand. As a brand, you need to determine how you play into this mix and entice someone to label themselves as “liking” your brand. Yes, you can get their attention and attraction by doing a sweepstake to get them to “like” you, but what will you do to provide continuous value to get them to build affinity for you, be part of your audience and ultimately become one of your advocates?

Use of “send” is a direct person to person, or person to group communication. When someone uses Facebook “send”, they are telling the recipient(s) “I thought of you and I think you will value this.”

While “like” may be viewed by more of the originator’s social graph, “send” is a stronger endorsement. Point is you need to understand how both can be used.

The Facebook scenarios I have walked through here are just one example of the imperativeness of understanding your audience, what they value, their behavior, and how they might use specific social media platforms. Yes, social media should be an extremely important part of your overall business and marketing strategy, planning, and execution, but you must understand your audiences’ behavior and how they will use the various social platforms you launch. You must measure response and continuously make tweaks in your execution to maximize key performance indicators.

So go ahead – kick some butt with your social implementations – but don’t just do it – think it, then do it, then measure it, then refine it. Continue the cycle.

Make it Happen!
Social Steve


Filed under behavior, brand communication, brand marketing, brand reputation, brands, Facebook, marketing, social media, social media marketing, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve

Talking About Your Relationships with Your Social Media Psychologist

Come in. Relax. Make yourself comfortable. Feeling a bit uncertain about your relationships – social media relationships? I am here to help.

In the past I have emphasized the importance of establishing relationships via social media as opposed to looking at social as a sales channel. And many still have significant problems establishing and maintaining their relationships. If we would just let “brand relationships” follow the rationale of “personal relationships” we would make it so much easier on ourselves. So think about those close to you in your own life and apply the same mechanics. While we don’t typically think of “mechanics” when it applies to personal relationships, I would suggest we do for brand relationships – because it is not so natural in a business setting. We have been programmed to sell, sell, sell.

There are four elements that must be present to have strong brand relationships.

How well do you know your target market? Have you walked in their shoes? You will never have a strong relationship if you do not thoroughly understand your audience and their perspective. According to Wikipedia, “empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another sentient or semi-sentient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion.”

Forget marketing (and of course forget selling). Simply think about delivering value. Think about your strongest personal relationships. Your strongest relationships provide you great support, love, or something that you truly value. Social media usually starts with content. What content can you give your audience that they value? As a brand, deliver valuable content without a hidden agenda.

Transparency and Trust
Transparency and trust go hand and hand. There is absolutely an aspect of trust in strong relationships and if you are not totally transparent, you are likely hiding something. How can you have trust if you are hiding something? If there is a problem with your product or service that makes you uncomfortable (and eliminates your ability to be transparent),“Do the Right Thing” (in the words of Spike Lee). Fix it, don’t hide it. Your degree of comfort of being transparent is a great barometer on the real strength of your offering and your organization.

Have you ever been in a great relationship that was one sided? Yeah, I know, rhetorical question. So, are you ready to put as much energy, commitment, and passion into the relationship that you seek from your target audience? Do not expect what you are unwilling to give.

When you think about it, there really is not anything earth-shattering said here. I’d almost expect the response, “yeah – so what?” But for some reason, we seem to lose our rational thinking with regards to establishing relationships between customer and brands. Remember these four elements of strong brand relationships – empathy, value, transparency, and mutuality. The acronym KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid comes to mind, but let’s change it to Brian Solis‘ version … KISS – Keep It Simple and Shareable.

I hope you feel better. See you next week … no charge.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve


Filed under brand communication, brand marketing, brand reputation, brands, social media, social media marketing, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve, Uncategorized, Word of Mouth Marketing

Social Media – Great for Reaching Celebrity Status, Except for Celebrities

Every brand would love to be in the public eye, like celebrities and pop stars alike. Feel the love; feel passion; feel the desire to connect and engage. Now I don’t think it is likely that brands will reach the level of connection of say Lady Gaga with her audience, but certainly social media, when executed correctly, can increase your audience and the passion they have for your brand.

And yet, it is almost ironic that so many stars that have already reached pinnacle admiration from their audience have failed and/or retreated from social media. Just one case in point – James Franco. Last week, Franco told Policito “Social media is over … You heard it here first.” He went on to say “My thought was ‘this is my Twitter. I can do whatever I want.’ But certain companies I work with contacted me about what I was saying.”

So think about this statement for a second and start to assess the difference between being a brand and being an individual while engaging in the social world. The social world demands that we are always on our game. Just one slip up produces a hurt to reputation. While we definitely need to have a person and personality behind social communication and engagement, brands must not be emotional. They must maintain a strong, rational position. Do not undermine the importance on this! If you represent a brand, and you want to reach celebrity status for your brand you will need to follow this guideline.

From the perspective of celebrities, it doesn’t exactly work that way. When everything is going great, celebrities want to show you their world and open up to the public. When things are not going well (and everyone has their hills and valleys) they prefer their privacy and solitude – rightfully so.

But brands do not have this luxury. Now I am not saying that brands should be deceitful and put “lipstick on a pig.” What I am saying is that brands can not hide in hard times. They must come out and face the music and publicly deal in challenging times. Have we not learned from BP and Toyota?

Brands should use social media in both good times and bad times. Social media is an excellent way to deal with mistakes. People don’t like to do this. Brands must! Want to create the best goodwill with your audience? Want to turn a bad situation into something positive? Use your social to fess up to your brand shortcoming – apologize and state the corrective action taken. Acknowledge that you know there is a problem. Listen to your audience. Convey strong and valid proof that it will never happen again.

And hey, when times are great, we all want to get the word spread. How do you do that? You start by creating informative and entertaining content/media. Not sales-ie stuff. Something of value for your audience. This is your owned media. You must have a plan that integrates your owned media with your paid media and on top of that, produces earned media. (See Integrating Owned Media, Earned Media, and Paid Media.)

Last week, in my column “Social Media – Quarterly Review, Q1 – 2011,” I stated that the strength of social media was “the ability to build relationships with your target audience like never before” (as part of my SWOT analysis). I am not sure celebrities really want this. Understandably so, they want their privacy and space.

Brands on the other hand, definitely want this. Once again – people want to know there is a human side to brands’ social efforts. But that personal aspect can not be moody and can never include rants. Think of the personalization of brands’ social endeavors to be carried out by a diplomatic ambassador. Yes, the ambassador(s) can be fun and informal. But they also need to be careful with regards to snarkiness. Remember Kenneth Cole’s botch. Brands must focus on a strategy, plan and execution that build relationships. If they deliver value to those relationships with a humanized rational touch, they can achieve celebrity status. Celebrity status – tons of attention, attraction, and passion from their audience. It takes time – there is no overnight stardom.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

Footnote – yes there are a number of celebrities using social media well. I would say that those that are successful, approach their individual social media activity more like an individual brand as opposed to their personal side.


Filed under brand marketing, brand reputation, brands, owned-earned-paid media, social media, social media marketing, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve, Uncategorized

Marketing Leadership (with a hint of Social Media)

You either get it or you don’t. The debate on social media is over. Be part of the conversation or be left out. For the past two years, I have been an evangelist, blogger, and overall supporter of new social media initiatives and their importance. As we turn to 2011, I see a movement and acceptance of social media – enough so to move onto the next thing …

Hey, don’t worry. I am not getting off the social media bandwagon. I just don’t feel the need to defend it anymore. And when I say I am moving on to the next important thing, I am talking about marketing leadership. The reality is that the customer has changed, so marketing must change. Are you a strong enough leader to take the necessary steps? What’s required is some good old traditional marketing mentality and INTEGRATION of some new social media. Yes – marketing leadership is a solid combination of old, proven approaches and new, customer-driven communication channels. Marketing leadership must consist of strategy and execution.

Marketing Strategy

So when I talked about what needs to be taken from proven marketing approaches throughout the years, I am really talking about two main areas: your positioning and how you tell your story. This is marketing strategy in the simplest form – brand position + how you tell your brand story.

In a recent article I wrote, “The Most Important Brand (You) and Social Media,” I talked about my days as a consultant and how I helped the companies I worked with write out a positioning statement. The positioning statement template looks like this:
• For …………….………… [target customer]
• Who ……………….……. [key qualifier – form]
• Our product is a ….. [product category]
• That provides ………. [key benefit]
• Unlike ………………….. [main competitor]
• Our product ……….… [key point of differentiation]
The point of this exercise is more of a strategic one as opposed to producing an executable deliverable. The formation of the positioning statement is done 1) to know exactly who you are, 2) to do a gut check on your knowledge of your target customer and validation that you really deliver them value, and 3) to make sure you have distinct differentiation relative to your competition. It is not something you specifically communicate. To me, the power of this positioning tells you if you really have something to market or not. Do you have something truly compelling? The late Peter Drucker once stated, “In most American companies, Marketing still means no more than systematic selling rather than its true meaning: Knowing what is VALUE for the customer!”

Take time to tweak your product or service, if necessary, and make sure you have a standout positioning statement. When you have a solid product/service, you need to determine how you will tell your story. And when it comes to telling your story, Simon Sinek has some great advice and case studies. The emphasis of what Sinek talks about is that winning brands reinforce “why” they are in business as opposed to talking about “what” they are selling. He says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it … it is all grounded in biology.” If you really have something of value, “The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”

Simon codifies examples of Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright Brothers demonstrating their successes by “marketing why” they did what they did as opposed to “marketing what” they offer. (Check out the video linked.)

Marketing Execution
Marketing execution is more than a marketing campaign. A campaign goes on for a finite period. Marketing execution must be continuous. Do you ever want to stop generating brand awareness and lead generation? So think of your marketing campaigns as mini vignettes in your entire marketing composition. Each of these vignettes should be aimed at a target audience segment, consist of stated objectives and measurement against the objectives, and have a call to action.

The target audience segment for each communication is likely to be a subset of your total target market. You should have different conversations specific to different segments of the total market. You also need to do an honest assessment and description of the current perception of the target audience. Do they think positively, negatively, or they don’t know your brand. It is important to capture the perceptions that need to be changed most and the perceptions to be reinforced.

Your objectives should be marketing objectives, not sales objectives. What are you attempting to accomplish through this initiative? Generate leads; build awareness; shift an attitude; build a client database; etc.? State exactly what you are looking to accomplish and the desired measurable results. Generate X hits on a website; capture Y new subscribers, sign up Z “friends/connects” or “fans”, generate some number of mentions; entice a number of comments, generate X requests of info, etc.? Define how results are to be measured and how the responses will be captured.

When all is said and done your marketing must draw your potential and existing customers closer to you – closer in relationship. Do you have something compelling and have you built up enough trust to lay out a “call to action” that will get a response? The call to action defines what next step(s) the target audience is to take. Subscribe, connect, attend seminars, visit a blog/website, became a fan/follower, tell a friend.

Social Media Integration

So everything I have talked about thus far has been straight-up marketing without the mention of social media. But back to what I stated up front – The customer is changing and thus marketing must change. And the significant change is the use of social media. Your customers are using it independent of your activity. Your customers have the control to change your brand reputation and position. Don’t like it? Get involved.

The social media integration must go back to marketing strategy – it is not just an execution piece. When you define “how you are going to tell your story” this is the point to collaborate with your social media colleagues. Discuss the social platforms where the target audience exists. Plan how you will traverse your targets through the A-Path. (Get their Attention, Attraction; have them build Affinity for you, become part of your Audience and then become your Advocate.)

Message to Marketing Executives and Social Media Managers

If really want to demonstrate marketing leadership, it requires tight collaboration between the experienced marketing professional and the creative social media manager. While the high level steps I have suggested here are very logical and far from rocket science, frankly speaking, I do not see many taking these or similar steps. I do not see an abundance of marketing leadership. I see much trepidation and fear from a majority of marketing executives. On the flip side, I see great motivation from the social media managers, but in most cases, a lack of true marketing experience.

It is time for the two worlds to embrace each other. So much can be learned and successfully executed if, what is by and large the generation gap were bridged. From my perspective this will be the start of marketing leadership that will demonstrate continuous brand success.

Market leadership – ready to show it?

Make It Happen!
Social Steve (a marketing executive before being social)


Filed under brand communication, brand marketing, brand reputation, brands, marketing, marketing plan, social media, social media marketing, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve