Elevate Your Brand In a Down Economy

Consumers are paying closer attention to companies' actions. From social networking to social responsibility, businesses have many opportunities to strengthen their brand.

As National Small Business Week winds down, one of the takeaways from the small-biz conference, which wrapped Tuesday, was extending small business reach through social media.

Today, as consumers spread the word about your brand (good or bad) in an instant through social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and the like, businesses must adjust their branding strategy to fit this technology.

While consumers can voice their opinions to the masses instantly via social networking, companies can do the same.

"You can act on feedback just as hard and fast, quelling insurrection and protecting your rep," Forbes says. "Brand maintenance is a fair fight, if you know the moves to make."

When it comes to branding and social networking, companies shouldn't merely be reactive to online chatter. "Surf the Web for mentions of your brand. Every Day," Forbes advises. Companies can do this with tracking services, Google Alerts or assigning a specific person or team to keep an eye on social media.

"[Social networking media] are great listening tools," Synergy Marketing Strategy and Research, Inc.'s Synergy Blog says. "Spend some time listening to chatter about your brand. If you're a small business — generate some positive chatter."

Take the opportunity not only to learn about how people perceive your brand, but also to get your message across. Jump into the conversations and relay your company message or rebut negative comments publicly. On that note, however, if your company has made a mistake, "own up to it and demonstrate that you are taking steps to fix the problem once and for all," Forbes notes.

Branding is not just about spreading your message but also backing your company's claims. "Lasting brands are still built the old-fashioned way: by consistently making good on what they promise to deliver," Forbes adds. "Giving customers what they paid for is nice. Demonstrating your commitment to quality and improvement will keep them coming back. And that's what building a strong brand, in any age, is all about."

Make sure to deliver on your promises. Ensure that your product works the way it's supposed to and that your team has the technical knowledge to deliver, Synergy Blog says. These improve your brand's image not only to consumers, but also to stakeholders. In light of the current economic climate, it's even more important to showcase your organization's capabilities and company integrity. "Your stakeholders are listening to what you say and watching what you do. Consumers are not spending as much; but they are listening to the signals organizations send," Synergy concludes.

Though it may not seem readily apparent, today's uncertain economic landscape can be an opportunity to build up brand image because consumers and stakeholders alike are paying close attention to companies' actions.

"Financial uncertainty doesn't negate the fact that the world has changed and that the consumer behaves differently (and expects different things from brands) than they once did," John Hayes, American Express CMO said at the American Marketing Association's MPlanet 2009 conference. "Consumers are more likely than ever to award their hard earned dollar to those brands that provide the greatest value, build the strongest relationship and connect in the most meaningful way." (Source: Greg Verdino, Chief Strategy Officer at marketing consultancy crayon LLC.)

That's not done by blowing a marketing budget on a Super Bowl ad spot. Beyond living up to their promise, companies can build up their brand by doing the following, Emirates Business 24/7 (republished at Branding Strategy Insider) suggests:

Start social responsibility initiatives. Join a corporate donation program or start your own charitable project, and ask customers to co-decide and/or co-donate.

Boost the environment. Go beyond limiting eco-damage and proactively do something that can help the environment.

Offer perks. Escape commoditization by showing empathy. Give preferred customers perks such as discounts and free services.

Let customers try before they buy. Integrate your goods/services into daily life. Allow your customers to make up their minds about your product and company through their experience and not through a marketing gimmick.

Do random acts of kindness. Pick up the tab or send a surprise gift to loyal customers. This "will soften up even the toughest of customers."

The bottom line, Branding Strategy Insider says, "is about treating your customers the way you would like to be treated the moment you shed your company outfit and don your consumer clothes."

Earlier: Branding the Complete Package


How to Maintain a Brand

by Kern Lewis

Forbes, May 15, 2009

Goodwill No Small Change in Tough Times

by Reena Amos Dyes

Emirates Business 24/7 (republished at Branding Strategy Insider), Feb. 10, 2009

Building a Strong Brand in a Weak Economy

by Rachel Y. Daniel

Synergy Blog (Synergy Marketing Strategy and Research, Inc.), Feb. 9, 2009

Brand Building During Tough Times, Amex-style

by Greg Verdino

Greg Verdino blog, Jan. 28, 2009

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