One of the hardest things for a new or small business to do is build a stable brand image. To help, Real Business looks at how businesses can bolster communications services to create a stand-out reputation.
Older and larger businesses have the benefit of a long-standing reputation, and a back catalogue of work to point to as evidence of the quality of work produced – but how can a smaller business build a stable brand image?
“It can be daunting to take on the ‘big players’ in the market, but small businesses actually have a huge brand advantage in one crucial way: their brand carries none of the ‘baggage’ of preconception, so they should be bold and creative with their brand, and make sure it really encapsulates what’s different and unique about them,” said Jeannie Ivanov, head of segment marketing at Virgin Media Business.
It’s important for smaller businesses to get this right, and build up trust as quickly as possible from day one. If a business gets off to a false start and is receiving negative feedback, it’s going to be even harder to compensate as time goes on.
In the digital age, however, there are ways to build a brand reputation at pace – and even a startup can project an image of professionalism and stability. Here, we explore how a business can operate online to win customers over.
Nailing the basics
First thing’s first: When putting a business online, your website and social media presence needs to be spot on. Given how often people search for things online and on smartphones these days, this is often the first interaction a consumer will have with a business.
Write yourself a checklist. Does the website look smart? If you offer an online shop, is it functional and secure? Is the website optimised for mobile devices?
The next thing to consider is social media presence. This is crucial to allow customers to interact with the business – whether it’s positive or negative feedback.
Business owners should always ensure they or a staff member is regularly checking these platforms and responding swiftly to any communications from customers. Ensure you are using consistent branding, and a consistent voice for all posts.
Having a website and social media is more of an expectation than an added service these days, but small business owners can set themselves apart with the quality of their online engagement.
“The way you represent your brand on social media – using the right tone of voice, responding to customer interactions and raising awareness of all the great things going on with your business – can really differentiate you from competitors and help you reach a far wider audience,” said Ivanov.
Responding to reviews
Putting a business online allows for much more transparency, which is great as long as the business is operating smoothly. However, any small business owner should beware of bad reviews.
A lot of people will do a quick scan of a review before parting with cash for any goods or services, as we all know from experience. How would you react if you saw a string of unanswered one-star reviews?
According to Review Trackers, 51.7per cent of customers expect a response from a company in seven days or less and, if the review they left was negative, 21 per cent expect a response within 24 hours. Never ignore a bad review: respond quickly, and try to rectify the problem.
There are all sorts of reviewing platforms available these days, such as Trust Pilot, Trusted Reviews, TripAdvisor, Feefo, and even Glass Door, which reviews how well your staff are treated and what your company is like to work for.
There’s nowhere to hide, so businesses are better off embracing the review platforms and even hosting it on their own sites. Work hard at getting good reviews – perhaps implement employee incentives for five-star reviews – and see it as an opportunity to spread the word.
Talking to customers
Review platforms are one way to engage with your customers, but this naturally comes after they’ve already purchased your offering. Social media also enables customers and potential customers a way to contact you, but some might find this too public for what they need to say.
Offer your customers as many ways to contact you as possible – whether that means setting up call centre services, taking on the onus of having your phone on 24/7 yourself in the early days, having an online chat box on your website or carefully manning the email accounts. Just be accessible.
Nothing makes a business look smaller and shadier than being unreachable. It may sound like it can take a lot of organisation, but essentially it boils down to one thing – a business broadband connection.
If you lose your connection to the internet, you lose your connection to your customers. Keeping lines of communication open and secure is the first step to building a stable and professional brand image.
“Ultimately, small business owners are consumers themselves and we all recognise how important brand is in informing the choices we make. So think hard about your target customers, about how they buy, what they want and what’s important to them, and make sure all of that is consistently and clearly communicated through your brand,” said Ivanov.
“Get that message across through on and offline channels, and you’ll cut through your market place, no matter how crowded is.”
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