Reputations are a tightrope, so brands need to find their balance
With the changing nature of retail during and after the coronavirus pandemic Tamara Littleton, CEO at The Social Element, argues that brand reputation is more important now than ever.
With stores closed, digital acceleration moving full-speed ahead and consumer needs changing, the last few months have not been easy for brands.
But, as we start to emerge on the other side of this health crisis, it’s clear that whilst Covid-19 has brought restrictions, there is much we can learn from how brands and consumers have responded.
If there is one thing that the last few months have taught us, it is just how quickly things change and how easy it is to get it wrong.
Physical relationships have been replaced by virtual ones, with internet usage surging during the pandemic as shoppers turn online for engagement. And with social media being one of the only channels of communication between businesses and people, it has meant that social platforms have become a microscope under which consumers can judge experiences with brands.
This has provided an extraordinarily unique opportunity to quickly build a brand’s reputation and presence among consumers, but it has also made it extremely easy for them to fail and leave a trail of digital damage in their wake. If there is one thing that the last few months have taught us, it is just how quickly things change and how easy it is to get it wrong. Anxiety is at an all-time high, so consumers want brands to be a trusted resource, not just another company trying to sell them something by taking advantage of the crisis.
Above: Brands such as LVMH, Pret a Manger and BrewDog were proactive in their help as soon as the coronavirus pandemic hit.
But in order to trust a brand, consumers need to feel that they are both competent and ethical, and those that have proven themselves to do both during lockdown will convert this trust into long-term customer loyalty. As we move into the next stage of the pandemic, but remain well and truly within the crisis of confidence and safety, there are a few key pillars for brands to adhere to in order to build a truly credible reputation online.
Humans are storytellers, so be human in brand narratives
Real reputations are built where brands are able to show the real difference that they make in the world, not just what they say they are making. With people becoming more interested in narratives behind the brand, it therefore needs to start with competency and purpose. Consumers want to know the story of a business. They want to hear what positive changes it aims to make, and see these aspirations in action.
By leaning into kindness across all communications, brands can nurture deeper relationships with consumers that will endure beyond this current crisis.
Social media is a powerful tool here. It makes it easy to share information and human stories that consumers find inspirational, from the likes of Premier Inn providing hotel beds to NHS staff, or fashion brands switching to produce PPE. 'Human' is the integral part of this. People want greater authenticity, empathy and connections. By leaning into kindness across all communications, from advertising to social engagement, brands can nurture deeper relationships with consumers that will endure beyond this current crisis. Ultimately, this helps to take down the corporate mask that traditional media can create and removes the wedge that it places between consumers and brands.
Above: Brands needs to listen to their customers.
You need to listen, but not stay silent
It’s vital that brands stay close to the mood of consumers by keeping their ears to the ground. You need to read the room and gauge what people are saying online, both about the brand and what is happening in society. If you promote an inappropriate message, or revert to a corporate tone of voice (as is usually a brand’s natural instinct) at a time when customers are angry, confused or inquisitive, it can be as damaging as no response.
Ignore your online reputation and brands will lose opportunities to fix problems and repair relationships with customers.
This is why investing in social listening tools and having the right people properly skilled in social media and immersed in the brand is so important. An effective social listening strategy provides agility to brands by helping them respond and communicate quickly and effectively. Ignore your online reputation and brands will lose opportunities to fix problems and repair relationships with customers. Gone are the flames of scandals fanned by print media then forgotten with the next edition. The online world is not so quick to forget, with many issues today playing out loudly, with no end in sight.
Don’t just talk, act
The debate around Black Lives Matter captures that balance needed between authentic action and speaking up; brands got it wrong, and got it right, in a myriad of ways when responding to one of the most important civil rights movements of our time. While some remained silent, and some circulated performative messages, others honestly owned up to the need to improve, or talked about how they were trying to make a change.
The tightrope is high at the moment, but a good reputation provides a safety net.
It is more evident now than ever that consumers are no longer satisfied with brands just saying the right thing. They want brands to take action on these issues. But social media has busted open a brand’s ability to say one thing, yet do another. You can’t just talk about diversity, you have to let people know what you’re doing to become more diverse. You can’t just praise health care workers, you have to offer them tangible support. You can’t just say you value our custom, you have to demonstrate what you’re doing to give back.
The tightrope is high at the moment, but a good reputation provides a safety net below if you put a foot wrong. In order to find their balance, brands need to be true to their values and keep to their word in a way that extends beyond paying lip service.