Your reputation – why it’s important

There is no
doubt that if your company has a strong reputation, you will attract better
people to work for you, your customers will be more trusting and loyal, and you
will be able to charge more for your products and services.  The bottom line is that reputation equates to
‘value’ in the market and can give your company a tangible edge over the
competition.

We have all
seen in recent years how corporate reputations can be shattered and the
subsequent damage to the underlying business – your company may not be a major
corporation but your reputation is still very precious and you fail to protect
it at your peril.

Your
reputation relies on the perceptions of your customers and other stakeholders,
including suppliers, business partners and employees.  In protecting this reputation it is important
to ensure that the reality of your business continues to match these
perceptions as it grows.  It is also
important to understand that as the world around us changes, the views and
demands of our stakeholders will also evolve, and that what your company offers
needs to change too to meet new demands.
A gap between perceptions and reality will lead to disgruntled
stakeholders and a damaged reputation.  

The best approach to reputation management is,
of course, to ensure there’s nothing negative to say and that no one is saying
it – this can be easier said than done.
A good reputation must be earned and once established needs constant
attention.

What
best to do?  Here are our top tips for
building and managing your reputation
:

1.    
Company
mission and values
:
A strong reputation starts with a clear mission and set of values which the
whole company buys into and lives by.  If
you can demonstrate a set of clearly articulated values and know that your
company’s behaviour mirrors these, then you’re well on the way. The things that
will impact your company’s reputation span right across the organisation, from
the way that you answer your phones to external callers, to your credit control
systems, the look and feel of your office, the way that you treat your suppliers.

2.    
Products and services: Your company’s reputation depends on the
quality and consistency of what you offer your customers.  If this isn’t right, no amount of marketing
spend will make your business grow.

3.    
People: Every single person within your business needs to feel responsible for
protecting its reputation.  To achieve
this, all employees need to understand and feel part of the mission and values,
and of the company’s growth and success. Put a thorough induction plan in place
for new staff and implement a training and internal communications programme to
keep everyone engaged.

4.    
Manage and learn from mistakes: Things can and do go wrong – we are only
human and most of us employ other humans to help us build our businesses.  So it’s important to monitor and predict
where weaknesses may be and have plans in place to deal with them quickly and
effectively.

5.    
Communicate: Building strong relationships with your customers is very
important for lots of reasons, some less obvious than others.  When your reputation is in question, loyal
customers can provide an important ‘balance’ to any negative noise around your
company.  Also, customers who are engaged
with you and your company are more likely to let you know in a ‘helpful way’
when things are not as they would hope; less engaged customers will be more
inclined to shame you using public digital channels.

6.    
Divide personal from professional: Keep personal matters private and well away
from social media to help protect the reputation of your business.  A social media policy will help to guide your
employees and ensure they understand what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour –
it is advisable to include this within your core employment contracts.

7.    
Get social: Your social media strategy should help you to monitor the
views and opinions of your customers, while also instigating and engaging in conversations
with them.  Learn a lesson from the big
brands which are now using social media channels for their front line customer
service – a prompt response to complaints and questions on social media can
turn a potentially damaging situation into a customer service success story.

8.    
Take responsibility: Now more than ever, customers, suppliers and
other stakeholders will expect your business to deliver more than just
profit.  They will be looking for
evidence of how your business is maximising its positive impact on the communities
in which it operates and minimising its negative impact on the
environment.  So, develop a corporate
social responsibility plan and make sure your stakeholders are aware of it.

9.    
Media training: Make sure spokespeople have had relevant
media training and are able to manage media interviews if the company’s
reputation is questioned.  It is vital in
times of crisis that you are not seen to be ‘hiding’ from the issues; you need
to present a concerned, reassuring and professional face for the business.  Stick firmly to the facts and do not try to cover
up truths – your customers deserve your honesty and will respect you for it.

Our brand of marketing

Capturing the key points from a recent interview our MD, Alison Taylor, did with Star Radio’s Business Hub, here are Conscious Communications answers to some of the questions we are frequently asked by SMEs in the region.

How do I approach my marketing strategy when I have a tight budget:

We will always recommend taking an holistic approach to your marketing and communications strategy, that looks to deliver your messages efficiently via whichever channel is most effective in engaging with your specific audiences.  There will never be just one solution, you should look at all potential elements of the marketing mix and make informed decisions about where your money is best spent.

Set out with a clear set of objectives for what you want your marketing to achieve – these will always boil down to two broad objectives:

  1. Profile raising and influence
  2. Sales/support – this may relate to sales of a product or, in the case of charities or social enterprises, refers to the support they gain for their activities

Taking these two objectives in turn our advice is:

 1.     Profile and influence

  •  Don’t scattergun your marketing – aim for quality not quantity.  This is especially important for SMEs where marketing budgets are tight
  • Analyse your market – the types of companies/organisations you want to work with, where they’re based, who they’re currently buying products/services from
  • Look at what the competition is doing – aim to identify your niche and understand why potential customers will want to buy from you and not from your competitors.  You need to really understand what you’re offering – think in features and benefits
  • Don’t focus on talking about what your company does: talk about what it can do for your potential customers – how will what you offer benefit them
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel – that’s not to mean don’t be creative; but don’t waste resources and time – monitor and evaluate and learn from what you achieve
  • Don’t pin your whole marketing effort on social media.  It can play a role in what you do and can be a useful tool, but it is not a solution in itself and much time and resource can be wasted on social media channels/platforms that aren’t relevant for your customers

Once you understand your audiences and what they’re looking for, examine all the marketing channel options available to you; weigh up what they offer and the potential return: advertising, sponsorship, media relations, events and exhibitions, networking.

Much of your marketing may be ‘under the radar’ rather than overt – it may be that your business is best built on reputation and word of mouth, like ours is.  In which case much of your investment may be in the time it takes to be out and about meeting the right people at events, conferences, seminars.  Factor this into your budget and monitor and evaluate the results

A few tips for what not to do:

  • Don’t invest without measurement in place
  • Don’t ignore existing customers – they can be your best source of new business
  • Don’t ignore your mistakes – learn from them

 2.     Sales and support

Relationships are absolutely key to closing any sort of deal, even in this digital age –  people buy from people.  From a marketing perspective, there are three keys to successfully securing a sale:

  • relationships built on trust – this can be evidenced by word of mouth; endorsement from existing clients/customers.  This is true for business to business, and business to consumer markets
  • evidence that the product or service can and has previously been delivered, and/or that the product has previously been successfully purchased/used – examples, case studies, reviews
  • proof that there will be the required return on investment.  Your customers will want to assess a cost vs reward ratio – if I spend x on this product, I will receive x-worth of benefit, whether this is tangible, intangible or even subliminal!

All of the above can be evidenced in your marketing.  It’s not just about getting noticed, it’s about proving you’re the best one for the job, or that your products will meet and exceed your customers’ needs.

It’s worth bearing in mind also that you don’t have to go it alone; so much today is about partnerships and collaboration.  Look for likeminded organisations to work with and form mutually beneficial partnerships to market; you may be able to pool resources and budgets to make advertising more affordable for example; or you may be able to develop a joint event which people are more likely to attend because it’s hosted by more than one company.

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