Brand = Reputation. Reputation = Brand.

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image copyright 2005 Olivier Blanchard

In case you've been living under a rock, the big buzzword in the marketing world this year is WOMM (word of mouth marketing), which emphasizes the value of a brand's reputation rather than a prefabricated image sold through advertising.

Boiled down to its basics, WOMM targets the customer's experience rather than the brand's message. Those experiences range from their opinion of the products themselves, to how friendly (or not) the person who answers the phone at your company's headquarters is. It argues that through WOM, a brand's reputation can be made or unmade, because people trust WOM more than they do advertising and traditional marketing.

It's all absolutely true... and it's nothing new. It's just that for the past decade or so, we have all been so focused on mass media and the internet (reaching as many people as possible) that we have slacked-off on building close-knit relationships with our markets. Well, we have pretty websites to show for it, and more sales too, but how is our reputation now compared to how it was ten years ago? Do we even know who to ask anymore? And is there value in getting down in the trenches again to find out what's what?

Here's an exerpt from Ian McKee's (CEO of Vocanic) blog:

- Fact: people are increasingly screening out ads. (Even) if the ads make it through, the clutter means that a very few are remembered, and if they do, then people are increasingly distrustful and cynical of the messages received. (Incidentally, catalogs, website content and all promotional materials are pretty-much ads for a brand, to some extent.)

- Fact: Reputation comes from peoples experience of the brand. Ask an Australian what they think of Qantas (airline) or Telstra (telco) - they both spends millions advertising that they value their customers, but when you call them you have to wait on hold for 15 mins, and their staff are frequently brusque to the point of rudeness due to lack of motivation. You can guess the answer, they have a reputation of not caring.

Here, Ian quotes NOP World research (in another post) to explain some key WOM drivers:
Recent research from NOP World has revealed that face-to-face recommendation remains the strongest medium for spreading word-of-mouth recommendation, with telephone recommendations running a close second.

When asked how they make recommendations, four out of five of the 1000 consumers questioned (80%) said that they make them in person. Some 68% said that they make them over the telephone. The NOP research found that this phenomenon is even stronger among the Influentials (the one in ten Americans who tell the other nine how to vote, where to eat and what to buy), with 90% of this group making in-person recommendations and 79% making
recommendations by phone.

The study also found that fewer than 40% of consumers use e-mail to make recommendations to others. This was broken down further into: personal e-mail (37%); e-mail forwarding (32%); and mass e-mails (12%). While slightly higher percentages of Influentials use e-mail (personal e-mail 53%; e-mail forwarding 39%; and mass e-mails 18%), face-to-face communication still far outweighs this medium.

According to Jon Berry, Vice President for NOP World: "The majority of word-of-mouth is still done at the coffee house, in the mall, over brunch or at the gym. Although technology and the Internet play a significant role in
spreading word-of-mouth, live discussions are still driving the trend."

This has three implications for most businesses:

1) A strong presence "on the ground" with your customers and endusers is

2) 'Word-of-mouth' is a powerful medium that shouldn't be overlooked. It is where your reputation is being cemented day in, day out (for better or for worse).

3) You can't fake it or put a spin on it. WOM is as real as it gets, which is why it is so effective. People trust their peers' opinions more than they trust what companies tell them.

The thing about word-of-mouth is that it is viral in nature: One customer's bad experience can spread like an infection and give us a bad name across an entire region. Likewise, a very good experience can spread just as easily and influence people to look more favorably on your company on their next project.

The question is: Are you doing everything you can to make sure that your customers' experience of doing business with you is as positive as it can be?
When it comes to owning markets, the best thing a company or brand can do is turn a segment of its customer base into a small army of brand champions. These are the influencers in their markets. Make them love you, and that love will spread. Identifying those key influencers in your territories and wowing them will yield serious results.

The easiest way to turn customers into your brand's advocates is to put out quality products that they know they can depend on, and make them readily available. Most of you already know that. As long as you don't lose sight of that, the battle will be mostly won. But there's more to your company and brand than just great products (and fast shipping). The biggest complaint people have about companies across every single industry these days (and this can make or break brands) is customer service.

A simple way to build a GREAT reputation on top of an already good one is to make sure that doing business with you is easier and more pleasant than doing business with everyone else. Customer Service is absolutely key in this aspect (and by that, I don't just mean your receptionist and call center).

- Whether a customer is looking for information about one of your products online or needs to call in, his experience has to be swift, painless, and pleasant.
- Information on the website(s) and your catalogs has to be easy to find and work with.
- If a customer must speak to a live person, they have to spend almost zero time on hold.
- Whomever they speak with has to be friendly and helpful. Charming and eager to help is even better.
From the moment they hear someone greet them on your end of the line to the moment they hang up, or from the moment they access your welcome page to the moment they complete their transaction, they have to be thinking "WOW, I wish every company I deal with were THAT good".

(Note the emphasis on "WOW".)
Remember those key influencers I mentioned a paragraph or two ago? Make them love you, and that love will spread. (And yes, I do mean LOVE, not LIKE.) Settle for making them merely satisfied, and you'll spend a lot of time knocking on their door to try and sell them something. Yours should be the first name that pops up in our customers' minds when they need whatever type of product or service you provide. That's what you're after. You might call it respect or trust... I call it love. And making them love you is easier (and cheaper) than you'd think. You just have to be smart about it. And diligent.

Sure, there are people out there who will never love you or your brand or even be satisfied with your products or services... And they probably feel that way about every other compnay they deal with. The trick rests in realizing that as long as they are less mad at you than at everyone else, they may (in their own way) become potent advocates for your brand. At the very least, they'll keep coming back.

Think of your own experiences with airlines, car dealerships and computer companies' customer support. think about the difference between the cashier's attitude at WalMart versus Publix (if you're in the SouthEast). Think about who you do business with and why. Think about who you don't want to do business with and why. People are a lot more forgiving of a shipping error or a faulty product when they won't have to fight to get the problem taken care of. Take their troubles away, and you'll make a friend for life.

There's no doubt that we all want to be customer-centric. We do everything we can to give our customers exactly what they want. We almost never, ever say "no" to a customer's request. We keep adding web resources to make their lives easier. We produce terrific promotional products aimed at helping customers do business with us. We have great customer service... So from our perspective, we're doing all of the things we need to do...

... but is your customer base's experience with your brand truly aligned with what you think it is (or want it to be)? Is the quality of your products what it should be? Are you easy to do business with? Do you keep your promises? In other words, does your brand's reputation out in the real world meet your hopes and aspirations, or are you falling short in some areas? These are real questions.

Beyond that, how do you get even better? How do you go from really good to GREAT? How do you WOW your customers without breaking the bank? How do you get to that level?

You start by being true to yourself and to your customers, that's how. And if you have a good product and a good story to sell, go tell everyone about it. The rest, well, your customers will let you know.

3 Responses to “Brand = Reputation. Reputation = Brand.”

  1. Blogger George Silverman 

    Great post. But what is Reputation? I've expanded on your ideas on my blog. Reputation is the expectation of performance differences. See:

    George Silverman
    Author, The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing.

  2. Blogger Olivier Blanchard 

    Thanks. You make some great points. :)

  3. Blogger Olivier Blanchard 

    Thanks for the comments. :)

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