Although the concept of business reputation is not new, the speed with which it can be built and lost has been dramatically impacted by the emergence of social media. And not just for consumer-facing businesses.
At its heart, a reputation strategy simply requires a business, no matter what size, to focus on behaviour first, before considering marketing and communications.
Below I’ve outlined three steps to help get you started.
1. What do you want to be known for?
It’s a simple question. But the answer we are looking for here is not the tag line or the content of your latest brochure. It’s less tangible than that. It might be something like “we want to be known for having the best customer service in our industry, hands-down”. Or “we want to be known as a company that consistently challenges the status quo”. Or “we want to be known as one of the best employers in the country”. You get the idea. In asking yourself the question this way, you are likely to get a more human answer. And a great reputation starts with making your business more ‘human’.
2. Create a benchmark
It’s really important to be honest with yourself about where you stand today in terms of your business’s reputation. A great way to get that information is to run a perception audit among employees, customers, suppliers, journalists and other stakeholders. But for many SMEs that is cost prohibitive. So take a look at the data you do have. Things like customer feedback, online reviews or ratings, employee churn rate. Once you’ve gathered the information, be honest with yourself about where the risks lie.
For example, if you have a great reputation but you know the quality of your product or service has slipped recently, and you are starting to hear more customer complaints, consider yourself on thin ice. It will be only a matter of time before the disconnect is exposed.
If you have a truly unbeatable product or service, but little or no recognition in the market, consider yourself one of the market’s best kept secrets. If this sounds like you, I suggest you go back to basics, really trying to understand your audience in detail and telling your story in a more compelling way. Focus on cultivating relationships with existing fans – you’ll be surprised how willing they will be to tell your story for you!
Create a grid with your product or service on the Y axis, starting with weak at the bottom, and strong at the top. And plot your reputation on the x axis, with the left side being weak and the far right being strong. Clearly the goal is to get to the top right quadrant, but the exercise will not only give you a feel for where attention is needed, it will also give you a benchmark for future measurement.
3. What are you doing to get there?
First, the easy bit – take a look at your outbound communications and see if it aligns with what you want to be known for. Your website, your brochures, the signage in your reception area (if you have one). If it doesn’t, you have work to do.
Now dig a little deeper. Try to identify systems and processes in the business that support the reputation goal. If you want to be known for great customer service, do you know what it is your customers really want? Do you offer things like no-quibble guarantees? Do you respond in a timely way?
In today’s market that usually means minutes, not hours. It is worth spending time in this area, because it is here that you are likely to identify things that you are passionate about, and that will ultimately contribute to a positive reputation…and likely some strong competitive advantage.
For example, if you have an online business in a very noisy space, and you want to be known for great customer service, maybe you could invest in technology that lets you deliver within 24 hours (if that’s faster than competitors). And if the customer is unhappy, you’ll replace their item free. If that scares you, then is your product really as good as you think it is? Your actions must reinforce your words if you want to build a strong reputation.
Once you have really examined what you want to be known for, where you are today and how you plan to get there, the action plan almost writes itself.
As the founder or CEO of your business, you are ultimately the custodian of your company’s reputation and it is your role to ensure that everything from culture and hiring practices to customer interaction represents the reputation your aspire to.
Jennifer Janson is the author of ‘The Reputation Playbook’: a book to help CEO’s protect corporate reputation in the digital economy. She is also the MD and owner of corporate reputation management consultancy firm Six Degrees.
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