Fifteen years ago, branding was a lot simpler than it is today. New businesses were more difficult to start. There were no social networks. There were no review sites like Yelp where people could discuss a product, service or business for the whole world to see. Mobile devices had barely been introduced to the general public. No camera phones.
In short, there were fewer mechanisms that impacted public perception of a business. Consumers were captive to whatever a business owner wanted to say about his or her product or service. Word of mouth was still important, but there were no channels or outlets that consumers could use to actively shape what a brand means like they can today. Online forums and chat rooms were born, but a business owner could still brand his or her business with very little say-so from the general public.
How a business is branded and perceived by the general public is no longer solely up to the business owner. What people say about you is as important as any high-priced branding campaign or catchy tagline. Do a “Google” search on your business name or variations of it. I’d be willing to bet there are several links on the first page of search results that you have seemingly no control of, like social networks or review sites where people are talking about you, grading you, evaluating you and perhaps even criticizing you.
This dynamic can either help or hurt your brand and brand perception. Some business owners are quick to eschew search engine marketing, social media or online brand management as not relevant or important to their business, or not impactful to their bottom line. Big mistake. Everything is relevant nowadays, your brand is on display 24/7, and customers are the ones shaping your story and either building your brand or bringing it down.
Become tuned in with what others are saying. Invest some time and money in reputation management. Do some searches by yourself every week to see what the chatter is. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on branding campaigns. But recognizing that every comment made by a consumer brands you, and impacts your bottom line, will go a long way to discovering how to proactively manage your brand effectively in the future.
Mike Sprouse is the president and CEO of Sprouse Marketing Group, in charge of overseeing all strategy and operations for the company. Sprouse Marketing Group is a marketing partner for small and medium-sized business, as well as major brands.