Do you have a friend or family member who is always late to everything—and everyone knows they’re going to be late? Is there a company you rely on to always ship quality products so that you buy from them with almost perfect trust?
Both of these scenarios deal with an aspect of image or reputation and both are incredibly important for your business.
Whether you know it or not, your business has a reputation and a brand image. How both are perceived can either help or hurt your business so it’s important to understand the difference and know how to make them positive.
Brand reputation is what you can expect from a company based on past experiences. You build your reputation with consistent actions performed over time and from these actions, people learn if they can trust you.
Customers remember if they felt good about their interactions with you or if they felt bad and want to avoid interacting with you in the future. Even from slightly negative experiences, your customers might start to suspect that something is wrong with all of your products or services.
It used to be easier to manage a brand’s reputation through billboards, magazine ads, articles, and other offline media. However, today word of mouth is much more powerful and it’s possible for customers who have had negative experiences with a company to spread damaging information very quickly online. People who have never bought from a company may decide to avoid it, creating their idea of the brand’s reputation from a single review or social media post.
This means that you’ll need to build your reputation through various channels. Proactively communicate a consistent, positive brand message both online and offline. You can build up enough good will with the public to get you through the occasional mistake or bad review.
Brand image is not the same as brand reputation. Your image is made up of:
Here’s an analogy to remember what brand image is. Brand image is like what you see when a man walks into a room. He might be wearing a great-looking suit, talk in a deep voice, shake hands firmly, and smell great. He has done well at controlling his image and everyone’s first impression of him.
Now, switch to reputation. To build a positive reputation, that same man would have to consistently perform actions that you could come to rely on. On the other hand, if he’s a great-looking man who is always late, his image might still be positive while his reputation is negative, because people know they can’t count on him.
Similarly, companies have to earn a positive reputation over time. Simply having a great product or service is not enough. Solve the problems you promised to solve. Build character through a history of reliable actions. Consumers should be able to generally predict the type of actions your company will perform because of your track record.
Brand image is directly under your control. You can control brand image through pictures, training employees to answer the phone in a certain way, what your website or store looks like, and so on.
However, you can’t control reputation like you can control brand image because it relies partially on what others say about you, but you can manage it as long as everyone in the organization is following the same principles. If your frontline employees say something off-color, it can damage the public’s perception of everyone in the whole organization, as well as the perception of your products and services.
In the past, brand image was sort of the same as reputation. Why? Because image was partly built through billboards and advertisements, and people thought that those media truly reflected a brand’s reputation and what everyone thought of the company. (Have you ever watched Mad Men?)
Nowadays, consumers know that a slick advertisement doesn’t guarantee that your supply chains are ethical, your products are built to last, and so on. It takes more effort to keep track of all the ways that potential customers get an impression of your brand image and reputation. Therefore, a good brand reputation strategy needs to include:
If your reputation is hurting right now, the good news is it can be built back up. Don’t be discouraged if it seems to be going slowly, because building a positive brand reputation takes consistent actions over time—actions like serving one person at a time. Keeping a long term mindset will help make these actions a priority in your business.
If things are going well, or not so well, for your business, now is the time to be proactive about creating and preserving a positive brand image and reputation. It may seem like an overwhelming task to take on, but it doesn’t need to be. Just take it one step at a time.
You could look into a brand management system to continue extending your success or help you get on track. Maybe you could increase your positive online reviews so that even more people can find you and learn how you can solve their problems. What matters is that you pick a tactic that’s useful to your business and start there. And then when you’re ready, find another tactic and keep on steppin’.