If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the business world and marketing, it’s that the old rules don’t apply. Specifically, if you think you are the one in control of your brand image, than quite frankly, you’re rather out of touch. No offense. Some eighty percent of the corporate world is still stuck in this particular mindset.
You don’t own your brand image; your clients do. Long, long gone are the days of dictating, via ads and promotional materials, what your brand stands for – in the 21st century, the consumer-to-consumer chatter is what determines that.
This is why you must be involved in – and honest with – the consumer chatter. You hear every day that businesses must be on Facebook, and must be Tweeting, and need to have a blog. What you hear less is the why: with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., the makers of your brand image have an opportunity to discuss with each other and with you.
Corporate traditionalists fear this, because someone might say something bad about their product or service (God forbid not everyone grovels for the chance to kiss your company’s ass). Seriously. This may have worked in the ’80’s, when clients had little opportunity to speak candidly with each other (or know who each other was), but fear not, their complaining is a good thing!
If someone complains about a company, product, service, etc., then two possibilities arise: one, the majority of people in on the conversation jump to your defense, thus rendering the complaint null by unbiased users; or two, people agree with the complaint, and you get an invaluable insight into your offering, and know exactly what to improve on. The most valuable customer reactions are ones in which they are speaking candidly, anonymously, and as a group. If a ton of people think your widget is awful because it doesn’t, say, clean itself every 3rd day, then rather than quashing the complaint, maybe you should listen to the people you depend on to stay in business. Put out a self-washing widget.
Advertising seems to be the last bastion of one-way communications. Way back when I worked for designer toy company Mimoco, I was introduced to Chitika by way of the VBU – the Viral Branding Unit. The ad unit consisted of a video advertisement (fairly standard), with embedded tabs that offered comments, ratings, and sharing. The addition of multi-directional communications tools to an advertisement were simply mind-blowing – I could see firsthand what people thought not only of my products, but of the advertisement I was using to promote them. Brilliant!
Unfortunately, the VBU is currently in a state of death. In hindsight, it may have been a bit ahead of its time – there are a lot of companies out there that are uncomfortable with both two-way communication and multimedia online ads. But it represents, to me, an idea for the future of advertising – let your customers and (hopefully) customers-to-be own the communication capabilities of your marketing. Don’t just allow, but encourage comments and discussion on the pros and the cons of what you do and what you offer.
And most importantly, when a negative opinion surfaces, make sure people know that you’ve heard the complaints. No quashing. No ignoring. Acknowledge, and be very open about the fact that you’re working to improve or fix the situation.