You file your taxes on time. You follow HR guidelines to a tee. But are you practicing good brand hygiene when it comes to managing your reputation?
Your reputation -- as a business and as an entrepreneur -- is found in your values and your ability to act consistently with those values. When you can articulate your beliefs and rules for integrity and walk the talk in how you behave aligned with those values, then you can build trust and credibility with audiences online and in person.
The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer highlights the importance of maintaining a consistent, authentic and responsive relationship with customers online. If 65 percent of internet users see online search as the most trusted source of information about people and companies, then neglecting your online reputation and promise, haphazardly engaging with customers (and naysayers) online and forgetting to anchor your posts and comments in brand values, is the equivalent to torpedoing your brand with the customers who want you.
Good brand hygiene means:
1. Surveying your customers.
Do you know if your customers are happy? Are they loyal and referring others to you? If so, why? If not, why not? Surveying your customers allows you to gather insights and information about how your value proposition is perceived with the target audience that currently buys from you. Their responses will help you identify what’s working, what isn’t and opportunities for you to improve your offer.
As you assess the survey information you receive, ask yourself:
- Is the feedback consistent with our brand values?
- Are there keywords used that indicate new opportunities to deliver value?
- What are our customers telling us are our key competitive differentiators?
- What can we learn about the needs (functional and emotional) of our customers from their responses?
2. Listening to your employees.
Richard Branson, CEO of the 65,000 person Virgin Group, shared in another Enterpreneur.com article that "by putting the employee first, the customer effectively comes first by default, and in the end the shareholder comes first by default as well.″
Listening to your employees not only empowers them to contribute new ideas and innovation but also helps you ward off problems -- brand, business, talent management, etc. -- that could be devastating.
One of my clients holds regular town hall style meetings with the CEO of the company and employees. These informal meetings create a safe place for the exchange of ideas, concerns and successes. They are not self-promotional, and the discussions are not shared outside the company. They serve to promote collaboration, transparency and the sharing of ideas. This particular client recognizes that great business ideas come from the frontline staff who interact with customers, vendors and the market place on a daily basis.
3. Staying responsive.
When you solicit feedback and listen to your employees, it’s important to respond and react to the input that shows opportunity or areas of weakness in the brand. For instance, if your customers tell you they love your service but your competitors are offering good service with lower pricing, you’ll need to decide how to respond. Do you lower prices or increase service and offering?
Another example -- if your employees see the opportunity to grow the promise of the company into a new marketplace that they are well versed in (i.e., new geography or demographic), it could make sense to form an exploratory team to assess viability. But remember -- just because your clients ask for changes in how you deliver your offer, if the change doesn’t align with your brand, you might not respond.
For your personal brand growth, feedback is also helpful for uncovering threats and opportunity. How others perceive you directly impacts their desire and willingness to refer you opportunities. Responding to their feedback requires care and thought -- you can’t change who you are just to fit the desires of the clients you want to serve, but you could modify your behavior if that serves both you and your clients in authentic ways.
A strong personal brand foundation and strategy empowers you to filter feedback and respond in ways that support your goals and meet the needs (functional and emotional) of the audiences you seek to serve.
4. Resisting change just for the sake of change.
Today’s world is changing, evolving, morphing and growing faster than the speed of light. That makes it tempting for businesses and entrepreneurs to constantly feel pressure to change, too. The problem with constantly changing is that you might be modifying the part of your brand and offer that works for your market. For instance, if you get feedback that the demographic for your product is shifting to younger audiences and you re-tool your marketing and positioning to attract millennials, you might miss the fact that your product is best used by an older consumer who appreciates what you stand for. Just because something in the market changes, doesn't mean that you must change your offer or value.
Similarly, if your customer surveying and employee feedback show that your brand could be more beneficial by morphing into a new market or with refreshed positioning, consider pursuing that approach. Just be sure you change the parts that need changing, and don’t lose the brand offer that gives your brand legacy equity.
5. Celebrating your successes.
Wal-Mart founder and business tycoon, Sam Walton, once said “celebrate your successes. Find some humor in your failures.” It’s easy to focus on your weaknesses, failures and missteps. Taking time to recognize and celebrate your successes, milestones and achievements serves to reinforce good decisions and remind your employees how they align with the brand values of the organization.
Share your good news online and in person with the stakeholders invested in advancing your brand. Remind them why the success ties to brand values that are important to the company and to you, as their leader.
6. Paying it forward.
Organizations, businesses and professionals who regularly practice good brand hygiene find ways to help others. After all, success doesn't come in a vacuum -- someone helped us all get where we are today! Paying it forward means sharing resources, time, talents, and sometimes cash, with communities and individuals who will benefit exponentially.
One of the best business -- and personal -- decisions I ever made as an entrepreneur was to volunteer and donate my talents to help a community I knew nothing about and had no personal connection. I felt compelled to help military service members transitioning to civilian jobs. While the time I spent coaching, writing and speaking to this audience admittedly took time away from my for-profit work -- at the opportunity to grow my business -- the rewards of appreciation and impact to this community were well worth it.
The volunteer work grew my profile and visibility with companies who hire veterans and can benefit from my services. The biggest reward I received from serving veterans is the knowledge that I made a big difference in the lives of the men and women who served our country.
While most entrepreneurs are busy with day-to-day operations and growth strategies to scale the business, good brand hygiene will ensure the business is viable and relevant and continues to be seen as compelling to the target audience it serves.