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Sep 30, 2008
How To

How to Practice Defensive Branding: 6 Key Factors to Build Credibility, Swat Bad Buzz

SUMMARY: Consumer discussions on the Web have a long shelf life – they’re not perishable like coffee-shop chats. That’s why it’s so important to keep online discussions about your brand as positive as possible.

An online brand expert talks about 6 factors in maintaining your brand’s online credibility -- the key driver to positive customer discussion. Includes tips for finding and responding to the good and the bad.
Social media is an echo chamber. Conversations about your brand repeat and spread farther than almost anywhere else. Keeping those conversations positive is vital to maintaining your brand’s credibility.

Pete Blackshaw, Executive VP, Digital Strategic Services, Nielsen Online, specializes in what he calls “defensive branding” online. His strategy to build brand credibility and dampen social media storms before they start? Monitoring consumer generated media with responsiveness and transparency.

“If you analyze why brands get a lot of negative buzz and generate negative search results on Google, or have bad conversation around the water cooler, most of it comes down to whether those brands have a credibility issue,” Blackshaw says.

Benefits reaped by credible brands online:
o More positive online conversations
o Preferred by industry experts
o More free, positive press
o Less reliance on paid media
o More positive search results

Credible brands build massive warehouses of trusted and favorable commentary, Blackshaw says, and that acts like mass media online. Here are Blackshaw’s six most important factors for your brand’s online credibility and tips for keeping conversations about your brand favorable.

Six Drivers of Brand Credibility

These six drivers determine your brand’s reputation online. They revolve around preventing negative word-of-mouth by being an honest, transparent and responsive company with a great product or service. The best way to eliminate negative buzz is to never give anyone – except your competition – a reason to complain.

->Driver #1: Trust

Trust is, perhaps, the most critical driver of credibility, says Blackshaw, who wrote the book, Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000.

Consumers trust each other more than they trust companies or advertising. That skepticism is best overcome through “honest, ethical, straightforward, consistent, and predictable business practices,” Blackshaw says.

Ways to build trust:

o High performance – Consumers need to trust that what they’re buying is worth their money.

o Safety – Consumers will not trust your brand if your product harms them.

o Straightforward communication – Eliminate ambiguous or elusive statements from your website or product materials; they’re confusing and do not instill trust.

o Predictability – It is easy to predict how a rational, honest company would respond to a crisis. It would apologize for any wrong-doing and work to fix problems.

o Solid guarantees and warranties – Fulfill your products warranty and guarantee.

“You don’t get a lot of swings at the bat, especially in the world of social media where trust is extremely fragile,” Blackshaw says.

-> Driver #2: Authenticity

An authentic brand sticks to its clearly stated values. Any brand that deviates from its values is open to charges of deception and hypocrisy.

Consumers have a wealth of tools to prove or disprove a company’s claims. Any company that is revealed by an activist group, or a lone blogger, to be shirking its values can generate a lot of bad buzz.

o Values permeate the company

A brand that positions itself as an environmental leader, for instance, needs to explore its company for exposure to criticism. If its office is lit with incandescent light bulbs, or its packaging isn’t recyclable, or its main supplier maintains a superfund site, that’s bad buzz waiting to happen. Eliminate exposure to build credibility and prevent bad buzz.

-> Driver #3: Transparency

Transparency is about disclosure. In the age of information, a consumer can find out almost anything about your company. By disclosing relevant information, you prevent bad buzz from erupting.

“You don’t want to be hiding anything or have users discover [something] outside your zone of control,” Blackshaw says. Either control the message or your critics will.

Make it easy to find:
o How your product is made
o Where it’s made
o Who your suppliers are
o Who your partners are
o Company policies (such as return policy)
o Your labor conditions

Also, make your product labels easy to read and do not cram rapid, incomprehensible disclosures into ads.

o Note: Know where to draw the line. It is not necessary to disclose trade secrets, product designs or “secret recipes.”

->Driver #4: Listening

Upset consumers want to be heard. When they’re ignored, they might complain about your brand in their blog or to their friends. Once they find others who have had the same experience, the buzz can become a roar.

Provide lots of ways for consumers to reach your company and encourage feedback. You can prevent public complaints and identify problems in advance. And it’s better to have consumers complain to your company than to have them complain to the world on YouTube.

Part of listening is making it really easy to contact your company. Other ways to listen:
o Easy-to-find, easy-to-use feedback forms on your site
o Customer forums
o Audio and video submissions from customers
o Specific email addresses for feedback
o Social media site presence

Monitoring consumer-generated media outlets is also important to listening. These are arenas where your brand is being discussed – even if you’re not invited to the conversation. You can monitor these conversations manually with tools like Technorati and the search features on the social sites. There are also premium, automated solutions offered by vendors.

->Driver #5: Responsiveness

Listening is only half the work of conversing. Responding to consumers is just as important. A company that is non-responsive to customer complaints or suggestions loses a lot of credibility on the Web.

Being responsive includes identifying your customers’ desires and preferences and incorporating them into your service. This info could come from submissions to your site or conversations you find on social sites. The info could prompt a new product launch or you want to invest more in customer service to build brand advocacy.

Being responsive also includes:
o Apologizing for and eliminating problems – quickly
o Combating false rumors by disseminating the truth
o Fast turnaround time in customer service
o Listening always

Before responding to a consumer conversation, analyze its root causes. Do not try to steer a conversation toward your brand with an irrelevant suggestion. You do not need to vocally respond to every brand mention. For instance, if you notice a lot of talk about your product ingredients, you may want to double-check that they’re safe and fully disclosed.

o High-volume triggers

Certain events trigger extra talk about your brand. Events like new product launches, the Super Bowl and the holiday season will generate more discussion, Blackshaw says. These times offer more opportunity and risk – depending on what consumers are saying.

->Driver #6: Affirmation

“Affirmation is the wakeup call,” Blackshaw says. Internally, a company may believe that it is a customer satisfaction titan, or that its products are a quality leader. Quick online research will determine the truth.

It is so easy for consumers to research today. It is essential to a brand’s credibility, therefore, that Google results and Wikipedia entries support its bedrock values and goals. If simple research can disavow any of those beliefs, it will greatly undermine brand credibility and open up opportunities for criticism in the social media world.

Useful links related to this article

Pete Blackshaw: Tell 3,00

Nielsen Online

See Also:

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