Have you ever noticed how proud parents look at their toddlers’ crayon scribbles as though they’re admiring a Picasso painting?
As humans, it’s easy to become biased when we’re attached to something. The way we see things doesn’t always match up to reality.
This is an issue that’s all too prevalent among brands. Companies think they know who they are and how they stand in consumers’ minds, but often, the message they’re sending is completely different. The trick is to engage in an open dialogue with consumers to cultivate a cohesive brand story.
Here are six ways to keep your brand in check and portray your company authentically:
1. Get Inside Customers’ Heads
You know who you are as a company, but do your customers? Brands often make the mistake of assuming their customers understand their brand intuitively, but your customers aren’t mind readers.
It’s important to do the appropriate research, either with focus groups and surveys or by hiring an outside agency. Knowing how your customers perceive you gives you a benchmark to measure progress and helps you know how to proceed with marketing to improve your brand perception.
2. Decide Who You Want to Become
Once you know how customers truly perceive your brand, you need to align your current brand image with the image you want. That requires a clear declaration of what your brand stands for.
TOMS Shoes is one company that does this well. From the front page of its website to its in-store signage, it’s clear the company honors its “one for one” commitment to provide shoes to people in need. This consistency and alignment of brand perception and experience is what lends it a reputation for being a credible, socially minded enterprise.
3. Listen and Respond
Once you’ve discerned where you want to go, ask your customers what they think. Whether it’s via social media, online surveys, emails, or in person, your messaging should be: “We asked you who we are, and you told us. We think we want to be X, so we know we need to change Y.”
General Mills did this just right when it invited discussion around sourcing sustainable ingredients in a live Twitter chat.
But be careful if you solicit feedback from customers on social media. The New York Police Department’s campaign backfired horribly when it asked Twitter users to post photos of themselves with officers. Instead of support, NYPD received mockery and plenty of bad press with photos of officers violently restraining lawbreakers.
4. Make Honesty Your Best Policy
When you receive negative feedback from skeptics of your brand, it’s natural to feel offended or even insulted. The key is to take feedback seriously but not personally. If that’s what people truly think about your brand, consider the criticism as constructive action steps for improvement.
Dominos took its customers’ feedback in stride when it launched a new pizza recipe in 2009. The chain was known for fast delivery, but Dominos knew its pizza wasn’t great. When it revamped its recipe, the brand launched a massive campaign to air all its harshest criticism and hold taste tests. Dominos was upfront about its shortcomings, and the campaign was a hit.
5. Use What You Have
Once you understand who you are and who you want to become, the next step is to leverage your most valuable brand assets to achieve that goal.
One way to do this is through challenge comparisons. Some examples include comparing socks washed with Tide versus the “leading brand” or demonstrating a blind taste test. Visual platforms such as TV ads, online video, and social media graphics are a great way to show differences with this approach.
6. Keep Checking In
Like any good business strategy, this has a wash, rinse, and repeat component. It’s one thing to work to understand where your brand fits into the market, but it’s another to remain relevant.
Social media is a great tool for this because it functions in real time and is reactive. For instance, when Gap decided to change its logo in 2010, the public completely rejected it via social media. Three days later, Gap switched back to the old logo and posted an explanation on its Facebook Page.
This is a good example of a brand taking advantage of social media to express its commitment to transparency and customer feedback. Although skeptics can be harsh, it’s important to remember that they cared enough about your brand to reach out.
By keeping lines of communication open and acting on what you hear, you can often convert even the toughest critics into brand advocates. The key is to ensure that consumers’ perceptions of your brand match their experiences. Because if they’re expecting a Picasso, even your best crayon masterpiece probably won’t cut it.