Let’s face it, where do we turn to to research anything from a product or service to the latest celebrity gossip? Online of course – just one click and information is at your fingertips. Thanks to Google, we’re faced with an endless list of information sources without even having to leave our seat.
Since the World Wide Web’s birth, any savvy business has been quick to create an online presence, even if this meant the most basic of websites. But once live, it was often forgotten about, with content seldom updated and failing to move with the rapidly changing virtual times.
With the evolution of web 2.0 the online world became more interactive, immediate and social, as web users demanded more and became increasingly discerning about the content they digested.
Every business knows the value of its brand; how a weak brand can quickly impact on sales and growth, and a strong one can see a solid customer base and a strong bottom line. The online brand is as important as its offline counterpart – in fact the two are integral – and requires regular, dedicated investment.
If your business needs any more convincing about the return on such an investment, read on for our top ten reasons why every business needs to take it’s online brand seriously.
1. Reputation is all
Information found online can make or break a business. And businesses which choose to ignore the importance of a rapid response to a customer complaint or clarifying incorrect information will quickly feel the impact.
The most effective way of managing and maintaining a positive reputation is to ensure website content and other online channels are up to date, with the latest product/service information and current contact details (there’s nothing worse than incorrect phone/fax numbers and emails which bounce back). If businesses can’t keep track of such basics it is assumed they neglect other key areas of their business and trust is quickly lost.
If you commit to investing time and resources into managing other online channels, such as a blog or Facebook page, ensure there is a person dedicated to content updates and customer engagement. Regular commentary from a company persona and swift responses times help develop relationships and build trust.
2. The rewards of loyalty
Building brand loyalty in a competitive marketplace is essential for business survival, especially for businesses which exist solely online. Customers remain loyal to brands which keep them updated and engaged – this can be something simple like news of a new product, or a special promotion exclusive to existing customers. Ignore your customer base and you will soon find them looking elsewhere for better. Treat them like a trusted friend and they will reward you with their loyalty.
If a customer encounters problems and contacts you directly or leaves a web comment intended for your eyes, ensure your response is rapid and your promise to resolve the matter sincere and swift. Everyone knows that one unhappy customer will be quick to tell everyone about their poor experience, which can have a very negative impact on a business. Give their story a happy ending and you will show potential customers you care and are worthy of their custom. Information is rapidly shared online so ensure anything about your brand is positive.
3. Stand out from the crowd
Businesses need to conduct regular competitor analysis to ensure they are one step ahead. The online world has made such analysis easier as competitor’s tactics are more transparent.
Businesses yet to engage with customers through social media are likely to lose out if they do not have a presence in the online spaces where they spend much of their time. Businesses need to be accessible and visible in the social world rather than continue to expect their customers to come to them.
Make it easy for customers to find out about your product/service and point them to where you’d like them to go by providing deep links to your webpages from within the channels they already frequent. They’re unlikely to visit your website unless you make it easy for them to get there.
4. Organic versus paid-for presence
There are two approaches to ensure a memorable online presence. One is the traditional paid-for approach; spending on Google AdSense to guarantee your top slot in the search rankings. The ‘organic’ tactic relies on more social, interactive content across a number of online platforms which complement each other and provide a joined-up online experience.
Sponsored links, which appear at the top of a search engine’s results page may give a brand online visibility but this approach can be expensive and does not offer the same level of endorsement that a naturally high ranking does. When your website ranks well on its own, it’s likely to be down to the matrix of other sites which are sending links its way.
A Facebook page, twitter channel and up to date blog all contribute to more favourable ranking for your website. Commitment is required to ensure these channels are coordinated and content is current, but it’s often a more affordable and trusted option than bidding on often competitive (and expensive) key words to maintain online visibility.
5. Customer recall
Offline and online alike, if your brand cannot be easily recalled or recollected, your efforts aren’t making a big enough impact. For a brand to succeed, it must be memorable and remain front of mind among your target audience. A brand that already promotes itself via traditional means such as advertising or a physical shop front also needs to complement this with regular, consistent online messaging and activity.
Customers will only remember a brand that has had an impact on them, so make sure yours stands out from the crowd by following simple brand basics online too: does your logo translate online? Are your images sharp, your colours consistent? Are your strapline or brand promises easily digestible in a fast paced environment? Don’t overload with too much information – bite-size chunks of written or visual content works best to ensure recall.
6. Make it memorable
Making your brand memorable means the difference between retaining existing customers and attracting new ones or losing potential new customers to the competition because they have made a bigger impact. This goes back to customer analysis – stay one step ahead of what they are doing and ensure you go above and beyond their offer. But don’t over promise and under-deliver, ensure that what you are promising is do-able.
Think about how you can share your online content through social channels to ensure it is seen by as many people as possible. Make the most of your own feeds and pages but join in relevant conversations too. For example, if you’re sharing a special offer on your own home pages, post to relevant Facebook pages or use an existing, relevant twitter hash tag (#) to make it visible amid your target market.
7. Be engaging
Engaging means starting and maintaining a conversation with your customer. When you share information and listen to the feedback, you will learn more, and be able to adapt your offer with the information you receive.
Your brand will also be seen as progressive, interested and caring – no one likes to be talked out without any opportunity to reply so ensure your online channels are open to receiving feedback, and act on any comments/suggestions you are given. Two-way communication is key.
8. Advocates and ambassadors
There is nothing more powerful than someone who promotes your brand through positive comments and unsolicited praise. People trust their peers and when they are seen to support and champion a particular brand, that brand gains credibility.
Brand advocates and ambassadors should be nurtured and treated with great respect. Monitor online channels to understand what is being said about your brand. Sending a simple acknowledgement of positive feedback makes the person feel they are being listened to and appreciated.
Equally, respond swiftly to any negative comments and give assurance that you will rectify the issue swiftly. This will turn a potentially damaging situation into one which shows your brand as responsive and caring.
To ensure brand visibility, it is not enough to develop a website, Facebook page or YouTube channel and just leave it to run itself. Brands need to continually evolve and change their content to remain relevant and interesting.
Keep abreast of changes to the online world and ensure you have a presence on platforms which your target audience are using. Although the core channels mentioned above are a fundamental part of your online presence, new channels will emerge and present branding opportunities.
Think about how you could adapt your content to suit channels such as Pinterest and Instagram. But don’t spread yourself too thinly or invest time and resource in a channel which you don’t understand and won’t be able to adequately maintain.
10. The personal touch
People build trust in other people and the interactions they have, not the brand alone. These interactions include people on the shop floor, the person at the end of a customer hotline, or the voice which is conveyed in web copy, a blog post, tweet or Facebook post.
YouTube presents an additional opportunity to interact with your target audience ‘face to face’ via the medium of video. All these customer touch points are opportunities to convey your brand’s personality so take time to get your tone and message just right.