10 Things That Will Hurt Your Brand

by David D. Menzies
On February 17 I posted the article Reputation Management is An Everyday Thing which served as a primer about creating ambassadors for your brand. It received several re-tweets and LinkedIn likes, and I even heard about it from someone at an event I was attending. In the time between that article and today's, I came across several instances of people doing the wrong thing with regard to reputation management, and thought the combination of interest in the topic and the "don'ts" I was witnessing merit a follow-up. To recap: reputation management is something every member of a business or organization is responsible for every single day with regard to protecting and enhancing a brand through marketing/PR/advertising, email, phone, events, and face-to-face communications. Approaching reputation management and protecting your brand the wrong way can have lasting negative repercussions. With that background, let's examine what some of the things you need to avoid.


Ignoring reputation management and not protecting your brand

To simply think that because you are good at business, have a great product or service, or are successful means your reputation and brand will never take a hit, think again. Every business in the world has, at one time or another, taken arrows from internal missteps, competitors, unhappy customers, and other detractors outside of the organization or within. You have to have an awareness about the importance of a good reputation, and get buy-in from everyone within your operation that valuing that reputation, and taking steps to protect it, is essential for survival.

Acting poorly in a public setting

I was watching a business reality television show where one of the contestants made a complete jerk out of himself by losing his cool and acting rude on national television, with millions of viewers well aware of his business and product. Whether it's on TV, at events, in meetings, or when you're out and about in your daily travels you should consider yourself always "on" with regard to being an ambassador for your brand. Keep your temper in check in tough situations, and be nice no matter what every single time you leave the office.

Pressing "send" or "post" without thinking it through

There may be times when you want to reply to emails, discussion board comments, or social media postings that make you angry with anger of your own. Remember, anger can endanger your brand; you never know who the recipient of your diatribe might be connected to -- perhaps an industry thought leader, media professional, competitor, prospect, or even one of your customers. I myself got an email the other day that was wholly unprofessional and uncalled for, and my first reaction was indeed quite negative. I got up, walked away from my computer, grabbed some water and calmed down. Upon returning to my desk I crafted a polite reply, not addressing the nastiness of the original email, but rather communicating my strategic messaging so (a) the individual would walk away from our interaction with a clear understanding of my services and (b) the individual would not have any fodder to speak poorly of me, had I zapped back a nastygram.

Using business communication vehicles in an unprofessional manner

Don't email friends and family through your business email if you don't have to. Whatever you write could be accidentally (or intentionally) forwarded to prospects or customers. Same with printed or hand-written correspondence; the most innocuous joke, should it be on your company letterhead, would reflect poorly on your business should it be left out in plain site at an event, meeting, or even on a desk. If you have a business Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or other social media account, don't use them to post personal items. You're asking for trouble in a very public setting.

Lying

This should be pretty self-explanatory, but unfortunately people try to skirt the issue sometimes. Don't announce things you haven't done, speak on subjects you're not familiar with, say you know someone you've never met, or confirm you've done something you haven't done.

Being unprepared for success

I've had a couple of PR clients in the past who've said "we need to get into media outlet X, Y, and Z" and then when I landed them time with reporters, the clients either bailed or acted poorly during their interviews, both of which damaged their reputations. There are also plenty of stories out there about businesses that really took off, but could not meet customer demand and, ultimately, failed due to damage to their brand because of an inability to deal with things like fulfillment and customer service. No matter what your business, once you are successful your brand will start to become more recognized by customers, prospects, competitors and the general public. In addition to opportunity, this also brings challenges to your reputation, and you have to be prepared to deal with the bad as well as the good.

Not tracking or reviewing outreach efforts

Do you have a website? Then you should be reviewing your analytics to see where people are coming from and which parts of your website they are visiting. Are you spending money on advertising, marketing or public relations? Ask every lead that comes in where they heard about your business and, if possible, ask about specific outreach efforts (i.e. "did you see our ad in Magazine X or read the article about us in News Outlet Y?"). If one particular effort is generating a good amount of interest, it's imperative that you review how your brand was represented in that particular outreach effort in order to replicate it in others. Same for efforts that might not have worked so well. Keep in mind, if you become a hit in a specific medium, your competitors are sure to follow suit or even try to trash your reputation within that medium. Don't be "one and done" with any particular effort, and continue to monitor your brand on the web to identify any negative attacks.

Being opposed to change

If it ain't broke, why fix it? Conversely, if it IS broke, why NOT fix it? Don't fall in love with any part of your brand, whether it's your logo, messaging or even name. You could think you're the greatest thing since sliced bread, but prospective customers might not, and it might be due to your branding.

Allowing brand attacks to go unchallenged

Not responding to competitors, unhappy customers, etc. is worse than responding, as many subscribe to the "silence speaks volume" line of thinking. That said, give plenty of thought to your response before you put it out there. I had a client once getting hammered on a community bulletin board frequented by prospects and customers; using strategic messaging, and communicating in a positive, customer-friendly, and -- when appropriate -- apologetic manner, this client was able to directly address negative comments while raising the profile of their brand in front of thousands of prospects and customers. Whenever someone says something bad about your business, it's a branding opportunity, and most definitely an argument you can win.

Attacking your competitor's brand

The flip side of the item above is that every time you think you're being coy and trashing your competitor online, on the phone, face-to-face, or at events you are bringing attention to that competitor and providing them with an opportunity to turn your criticism on its head, even if you truly feel your criticism is valid and truthful. Why pour fuel on the fire? Remember, if you don't have something nice to say about someone, don't say anything at all...well, about them. You can certainly capitalize on missteps of a competitor by promoting your own brand, directly or indirectly referencing the type of situation that competitor is struggling with. Just remember, whatever you do, you're being an ambassador for your brand, and if you are attacking in a negative fashion, that's what people will associate with your brand. However, if you are simply providing a better alternative, that's something prospective customers can really latch onto.

David D. Menzies is president of Innovative Public Relations, a PR and media relations consultancy. He is a 22+ year public relations professional with expertise in strategic messaging, publicity and branding. For more information visit www.innovativepublicrelations.com. Copyright © 2014 Innovative Public Relations, Inc.