Social media has completely redefined the way in which a brand lives. Reputation is earned, these days, and is no longer controlled by the powerful corporation in the ivory tower.
The news is littered with examples of companies whose poor practices, be they in terms of customer service or tax dealings or treatment of workers, come out in the social media wash. In the short term, the effect these tarnished reputations have seems minimal. Vodafone is still a huge company with millions of customers. Boots still gets the lion’s share of everyday pharmaceutical and cosmetic purchases.
The thing is, social media is a slow burning candle. They’re also a forum in which users wait to see how brands respond to revelations about their errors. By not coming out with huge apologies and showing all their consumers what they intend to do about (in the case of our examples) massive tax avoidance, Boots and Vodafone both drive a wedge between themselves and their markets which – over time – they may never manage to remove.
The point is, brands no longer own their own reputations – or rather, they are no longer able to blindly insist that their reputation is a when it is in fact b. A brand is in control of its reputation until the moment it decides to ignore the realities of that reputation – at which point the consumer, over time and in the public spaces of the social media, systematically destroys it.
It seems hard for us to imagine at the moment – we are all so used to the power of the corporation being unassailable. But the fact remains that the market is opening itself without reserve to the scrutiny of social media – not because it wants to but because it has to. Soon there will be no information genuinely unavailable to the consumer: and at that point, the brand that thinks it can create its own image is the brand doomed to die.
Nokia is a fine case in point, actually. The former mobile phone giant simply refused to acknowledge its slackening reputation, and woke up one day to discover that no-one cared about its phones anymore. In a last ditch effort, the company rebranded and got a foothold in the smartphone market, where it is now climbing laboriously back up to the top.
Nokia’s near death experience was created by its consumers, who walked away in droves while the company effectively convinced itself that they weren’t. Consumer opinion – that Nokia phones were outdated and boring – was in direct opposition to the company branding: that Nokia phones were still good. Reality prevailed. If everyone who used to buy your phones thinks they are now not worth having, then your branding (which clearly states that they are worth having) is wrong.
How long will it take for companies living in a branding dream world to wake up? To a large extent that depends on the architecture of the dream world in question. The broadest truth, though, is this: the brand no longer lives in a high castle. It’s come down to the people.
Marketer and engineer specialising in IT, tech and engineering companies. I bring new ideas, innovation, passion and clear strategy development with defined ROI, underpinned by 30 + years of experience.
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