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by Tara West on 24th March 2011
As consumers are spending an increasing amount of time online, the internet is becoming an essential touch point for brands to communicate with them. Managing a brand’s online presence can seem like a daunting challenge; however there are ways to respond to these challenges and make them a positive aspect of a brands online marketing strategy.
This post looks at three of the biggest challenges facing branding online and ways to help manage them.
There are so many marketing messages bombarding consumers every day, that one of the biggest challenges for a brand is getting noticed.
If you have a large reputable brand which is already well established, this is a much easier challenge to overcome, as existing brand awareness can encourage the consumer to click on your site when it appears in search engine results pages (SERPs). As a strong reputable brand, you are also more likely to have links to your site from consumers who are already talking about your brand online, which will naturally aid your position in the SERPs.
For pure play brands, who are entirely online based, it can be a much bigger challenge. Getting your website noticed by consumers can be the first step to engaging with them online. One way to help overcome this challenge and create a strong position for your site within search results is through Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Search Engine Optimisation can play a key element in online brand management as, just like traditional brand management, having a presence is essential to building brand awareness and engaging with consumers.
Lack of Control
A major challenge to all brands in the online environment, whether they are well established or relatively unknown organisations, is the lack of control that they have over content about them.
The number of online review site platforms are ever increasing, in line with consumer demand for unbiased, independent information on brands and their products or services. What consumers write in these reviews is beyond the control of the brand manager. It is important for an online brand management strategy to include monitoring review sites and try to engage with consumers who have made negative comments and understand why, alongside trying to rectify the situation if possible. It is also important to thank those who have written positive reviews about your brand and possibly offer them an incentive to continue to do so, for example discount codes.
Forums are another online platform allowing communities of consumers to discuss brands feely. From an online brand management perspective, this can be approached similarly to review sites. The differentiation factor of a forum is that it is more community based. As a representative of your brand, you could try becoming a member of some relevant industry forums where your brand may be discussed and engage with the community to understand negative comments and encourage further positive discussion. This approach is advantageous in other ways too, as a lot can be discovered about an industry from the kinds of opinionated consumers who are on forums. For example discovering emerging trends which your brand may need to react to, or identifying needs for new products or brand extensions.
Blogs are a particularly powerful online platform, as often those who write blogs are considered to be trend setters or opinion leaders within their field. If these people are talking negatively about a brand, they have the power to influence others. If there are negative blog posts about your brand, you could contact the blogger directly and try to rectify the situation which has earned you a negative reputation in their eyes.
This is not a one off solution to the issue though, as often in order to change a consumers perception of a brand, the communication needs to be longer term. This could be maintained through writing to them regularly about the kinds of positive things your brand is doing. If a consumer is blogging about a brand in a positive light, this should also be encouraged by communicating with them and could involve giving them information on up and coming products or samples and vouchers.
There are many different websites which provide businesses with the opportunity to have an online business profile, such as BrownBook or Yell. This is a great opportunity to increase a brand’s online presence, however many of these platforms allow anyone to set up profiles in your business name, without any need to verify themselves. This means that consumers (or worse still, competitors) could register profiles in your business name with incorrect or harmful information. This could potentially mean losing out on leads because an incorrect website address was entered, or outdated phone number. To avoid this, be proactive and register your brand on these platforms, including verifying profiles, so that they can be maintained only by you.
Consumers use social media not only to interact with one-another, but also to vent about brands. This is something that is inevitable and used to be very difficult to monitor. There are now services available that allow brands to monitor what consumers are saying about them in the public domain of social media. One way to manage your brands reputation on social media is to engage with consumers through it. Consumers are less likely to vent to their friends or followers negatively about a brand if they can vent to the brand directly and feel like they are being listened to. This means not only registering on social media platforms so that you have a presence, but actually using them to interact with consumers, for example responding when negative comments are made and praising positive comments, as well as starting conversations.
Consumer Trust & Loyalty
Gaining trust from consumers is vital to any online branding strategy. Without trust, the consumer is unlikely to listen to your branding messages and even less likely to purchase through you. Again this is a challenge which is less prominent for well established organisations, but a mountain to overcome for new or pureplay organisations.
One of the most important ways to encourage consumer trust is through making sure the online process is as clear and transparent as possible. This can be achieved through making sure the website’s check-out system is easy to use, having a contact number and address visible on every page, having simple contact forms, clearly stating how you will use their data, and being clear about costs throughout the purchase process.
If you are struggling to get consumer to convert within your site, try using Google Analytics to see exactly where they are dropping out on the conversion path and look to improve that area of the process.
Once you have gained consumer trust and achieved an initial conversion, the next challenge emerges in creating a sense of loyalty from that consumer to your brand. The internet makes it increasingly easy for consumers to comparison shop, and is even encouraged by Google who can return specialised shopping results:
In order to instil a sense of loyalty within consumers, it may help to engage with them regularly through newsletters, offer them discount vouchers, or exclusive information on new products.
Brand management in the online environment may seem like chaos initially, but there are simple steps which can be taken to manage brand reputation online. The important thing in all of these steps is to really listen to consumers and engage with them. Brands can’t always be in control online, but they can be pro-active and work with consumers to encourage the kind of reputation they would like to create.
With the continuous rise in the number of forums, review sites, blogs and social networks, it is now more important than ever for you to protect and monitor your brand name online.