Customer and brand: a symbiotic relationship
30 April 2018
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How important is the reputation of a brand and does the responsibility of reputation lie within the company itself or does it lie within the hands of the consumer?

The evolution of today's consumer has drastically changed the way brands are communicating with their customers. Gone are the days in which a brand's reputation was determined by the company CEO and the Board. The popularity of social media has shifted the power base and now it is the consumer who decides whether or not a brand can be trusted. So what has caused the shift? In part, it could be due to the rise of the connected consumer and our obsession with knowing everything that is going on in the world.

No longer are politicians, corporates and brands allowed to say and do what they want, when they want, without consequence. If they do, they risk tarnishing their reputation and losing the trust of their consumers.

An interesting example is Volkswagen. Once known as a German multinational automotive manufacturing company - it now has the added distinction of being known for cheating on its gas emissions tests and creating far more air pollution than its spokespeople communicated. Tiger Brands is no longer seen as a company that provides packaged eating goods - in the public perception, its reputation is deeply tainted by allowing its customers to purchase meat contaminated with Listeriosis. Facebook, along with Cambridge Analytica (a London-based elections consultancy), is being accused of hijacking and putting its customers' personal data at risk, and allowing third parties to use it for their benefit (for example, in the 2017 US elections).

All of these companies have one thing in common. They weren't transparent with their consumers. Companies need to ask themselves three crucial questions: What would our customers want to know about a damaging situation involving our brand? Why would they want to know that? How should we best share this information with them? Although coming out with the truth may result in some damage to a brand promise, chances are consumers will be more likely to understand and forgive the ugly truth over a crock of blatant lies. Being transparent with one's consumer is vital - being open and honest from the get go will gain you more respect than if you are found to be deceiving the public.

Honesty will spike an emotional connection which will likely lead to increased customer loyalty and trust. And at the end of the day, that is what all brands strive for. Companies need to be proactive in managing their reputation online and offline, and be vigilant in keeping it intact. That way, if problems arise, they will be easier to rectify.

By Kim Podmore
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