In the past few weeks I’ve spoken with quite a few companies who are trying to deploy strategies to overcome negative search engine results regarding their companies, products or services. It used to be possible to maintain a perfect brand years ago. If bad things happened, you could pay to get rid of the problems or sweep them under the rug so no one could find them.
This doesn’t work any longer. The prominence of social networks, business review sites and blogging has provided the upset customer with a huge sword to strike at the heart of your brand. Customers are rioting (sometimes for good reason) and the brand manager is feeling helpless.
Brand perfection is dead.
It’s no longer the choice of the brand manager or the CMO to maintain the integrity of the brand. It’s now the responsibility of every employee in the organization. Don’t try to break out the big sticks or the tear gas, either. One overzealous corporate attorney sending a cease and desist can set the Streisand effect in motion.
These companies look at me helpless, wanting me to assure them that I can fix their problem. It doesn’t work like that. It won’t ever work like that again. Brand perfection is dead. Reputation management, transparency, and great customer service are the brand manager’s protective gear. If your company wants to build a great reputation, it starts with great customer service.
If you want to kill a bad story in a search engine results page, you need to work much harder as a company to make some good stories make the results page instead. Much, much harder.
Likewise, the day of manipulating consumers as if they were mindless zombies is over, too. Consumers now read, listen, discuss and research their purchasing decisions. The good news is that consumers don’t expect perfection anymore… but they do expect honesty. If you have a product ratings page that’s full of 5-stars, some research has been shown that consumers won’t find the reviews credible. In other words, you could be losing customers if your brand appears perfect. Wow.
We can’t control the message unless we can live up to the expectations of what we wish our brand to portray. We can’t cover up our faults anymore, we have to be open about them. The age of brand imperfection is among us – and to succeed we must be open and honest about our products and services… good or bad. When your company doesn’t live up to expectations (which will happen), you must react swiftly to correct the issue. I would encourage you to respond to negativity on your own turf, though. Direct the traffic where you have the microphone rather than rewarding a resource who may not deserve the spotlight.
If your company has a negative search engine result, encourage the customers who are champions of your brand to promote you on their own sites, their profiles, their networks and/or their blogs. You can’t get rid of anything negative on the Internet anymore, but you can promote the positive.
When your company lives up to expectations, you’ll find it a lot easier to manage your brand effectively.