Truth, as the experts say, is the best marketing tool.Provide a worthwhile product or service and customers will beat a path to your door. Long before the advent of advertising, truth fueled word of mouth, which meant continued business. Truth mattered.
Then came along the days of the big media buy, and truth suddenly became less important. First with newspapers, then later with radio and TV, corporations began to realize that spending money to buy ad space allowed them to effectively control the public’s perception of their brand. If a company extolled the virtues of its own brilliance, for the most part, consumers just had to take its word for it. This is how smoking companies got away with selling the benefits of “cool”, while beverage giants told us giving soda to infants was a great idea.
Then the Internet came along and changed everything, bringing with it a new wave of accountability. Consumers became more savvy and discerning, while brands could no longer masquerade as something they weren’t. Transparency was king once again, with the online realm meaning word of mouth has returned to its position of prominence in purchase funnel.
Whether through a blog, user review site, or social network, consumers will critique the performance of your brand. The word of mouth renaissance is in full swing, but this time with a twist -- written reviews online can hang around much longer than the spoken word, sometimes in perpetuity. As Bazaarvoice’s CEO Brett Hurt recently put it, “This is the first time in history that word of mouth has become a digitally-archived medium.”
The rise of this new transparency comes at a unique economic time. The rocky economic climate of the last few years has created more mindful, post-recession consumers who take a deeper, more nuanced interest in the values of the brands they buy. Once captivated by price, performance and status, now consumers are assessing brands on deeper emotional drivers like kindness, empathy & social responsibility.
It’s precisely for this reason that it’s a good idea to be transparent and authentic with your online marketing efforts. Even the most loved brands are going to draw some negative reviews, but negative reviews are valuable in and of themselves. Not only do they build trust and credibility with your audience, they are a free and forthright assessment of what your brand is doing well and what needs improving. Like it or not, your customers (and potential customers) will be discussing your brand in the interactive realm, the challenge therefore is to give them something worthwhile discussing.
A recent example of the importance of transparency came in the case recent client of ours. We conducted a robust qualitative and quantitative analysis and found the brand was widely loved, with research suggesting that ninety percent of its customers were either likely to recommend the brand to others. The company does stellar work in the community, having built ties to the region through deep customer centricity which resonates powerfully with its user base. The disconnect we found was that the client’s interactive marketing efforts lacked the warmth, brand affinity, and sense sense of community for which it was so well known.
This, we felt, was a missed opportunity. The brand had come to embody certain values which weren’t obvious when viewing its marketing materials. The brand’s interactive marketing efforts conveyed a professional and clean image, the problem was, several other brands could lay claim to this position in the marketplace. We are currently taking steps to help our client elevate elements of the values that makes it unique, a process the client has been very receptive to.
How does apply this to your brand? Next time you are looking to refine your strategy, ask yourself two questions:
“What is true our brand that isn’t of any of our competitors?”
Think beyond product or service offerings that are easily replicable. Think of the values and mindset your brand represents that can’t be copied.
“What content can we make available that will demonstrate the answer to question 1?
Provide shareable content with your interactive community (company blog, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) that will resonate with your online audience.
Summary: Whether you like it or not, people are going to be discussing your brand online. The key is to elevate what is best of your brand and empower your customers (and future customers) the opportunity to discuss it.