Your brand is your brand, right? You define your business, shape your company’s personality and build it into every facet of your business. That’s all fine and dandy. But just because you own your brand doesn’t mean you’re the only one in charge of it. In today’s largely two-way society, consumers have nearly as much impact on your brand as you do. Don’t forget: they’re the ones who actually vote with their dollars, so their opinions and insights carry some real weight.
Let’s break down exactly what that means.
As much as you want to control the perceptions of your business, a lot of that power rests in the hands of the public and how they interpret your product or service. Entities like online review sites, digital business listings (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.), social media communities and consumer-driven news stories all allow people to voice their opinions; and each channel plays an important role in the way your brand is perceived by the masses.
That can be a scary realization, but it’s no reason to have a major meltdown, or even a minor freakout. This is as much an opportunity as it is anything else, especially if you’ve built a solid brand to begin with (more on that here). Recognizing that your consumers “own” a portion of your brand allows you to build stronger bonds with existing customers and expand your network to reach new people. Think of it as stock options. Anyone who’s invested in your brand, either fiscally or emotionally, is rooting for it to succeed.
But how do you harness the true potential of these relationships?
Start by reflecting on the values you share with your audience. These core pillars are the reason you connected with them the first place. Those principles should shape your brand as much as your actual product or service. Take time to contemplate whether they still properly represent your business, and frankly, if people still give a crap about them.
After evaluating your core values and deciding whether to ride or die with them, it’s time to tap into the power of those who champion your brand. Begin by building real, authentic relationships with people by any means necessary. Use social media, email, your website and last (but certainly not least), your in-person experience. All of these platforms allow you to connect with people on a personal level and bolster their equity in your brand.
Building these bonds requires a few things from you:
1. Don’t try to be anything you’re not.
Today’s consumers are smarter than ever and see through inauthentic facades faster than you can say “the Harlem Shake’s still cool, right?”
2. Commit to a culture of transparency.
If something goes wrong, own up to it. Consumers respect brands who can candidly admit their shortcomings and are more likely to remain invested in them. And that revelation offers a neat little segue into our third thing.
3. Don’t ignore negative comments.
Even if it seems like someone is whining just for the sake of it, there may well be a kernel of truth in what they’re saying. Respond swiftly, offer to resolve the situation and use the negative feedback as fuel to better your brand. Just don’t use this as a time to get overly emotional or defensive. That last point goes double for social media, but is applicable to every aspect of your business—all the way down to an operational level.
All in all, giving your customers a stake in your brand is simply an opportunity to embrace the people who embrace your brand. Use their opinions and input as a guiding force (with a smidgen of salt) when defining the future of your brand. And don’t forget: just by creating a cohesive brand experience, you can help consumers know what to expect and form a stable relationship with your business. If you want to dig a little deeper, see how we put these tips into action with this case study.