You Are Branding

It has happened to me more than once: someone hands me their plain white business card, with blocks of text confusingly jammed in all four corners. Perhaps, because they know what I do, they feel the need to add this disclaimer, “It’s just a plain business card. I haven’t branded it yet.”

But they have. They just don’t realize it.

Branding is not your business, yet it is part of all your business. It is like an ever-present adjective: always describing your business without actually being it. Every type of interaction with your customer is branding. Every graphic, every piece of printed material, the sign, the landscaping, the interior decor, even phone conversations (and god forbid automated directories) reflect the company’s brand.

These don’t sometimes make an impression on your customer; they always make an impression on your customer. It may be mild or unmotivated, but it is still defining of you.

That plain white business card is branding. The blandness, the lack of effort, that is the brand. That is what it communicates to people. No disclaimers can change that. And the more you invest in those business cards, the more you print, the more you put in people’s hands, that is brand equity. Don’t invest equity in bad branding.

The good news is, a lot of competitors do it badly also. If you take the time to ensure you have a strong and consistent brand (in addition to great products and service) you will put yourself in a smaller, more elite league of competitors.

The Peril of Just “Doing” Social Media

An integral part of management is to define and delegate tasks. In any size organization this practice is critical to the overall function. This is all the more true if third-party vendors are involved. While the granular approach is fine for many operational aspects, it is suicide to a social media effort.

If social media is isolated in the company it loses the support channels needed to be effective. Why? Because social media isn’t a task like driving a truck or processing forms, it redefines the type of relationship you have with your customers. Also, because social media is very much the voice of the company, the integrity of your reputation depends on the company backing up what that voice says.

“ media isn’t a task like driving a truck or processing forms, it redefines the type of relationship you have with your customers.”

As a mental exercise, think of the Press Secretary for the President of the United States. In a sense their job is simple, yet due to their exposure for and association with the President, they get a lot of attention from the executive. The social media content producers must develop content that is consistent with the company’s message and values, but their words are only as meaningful as the company’s actual practice.

Social media has a tight feedback loop, so failure to have vertical integration will manifest quickly and painfully as people use their own social media reach to amplify real or perceived inconsistencies between their expectations and your delivery.

At this point there may be a temptation to dampen the messages you send through the social media channels. Resist! Being tepid or defensive will show through your marketing messages. If you seek to be a dominant force in your market you must take pains to ensure the customer is very happy.

For social media and damage control, this means a fast response to complaints by people who actually have the authority to resolve the issues. Also, don’t view the complaining customer as the problem, but rather analyze the circumstances of their complaint and see if employ training or policy adjustments are needed.

Taking the high road and driving for customer satisfaction, based on a responsive relationship to your customers, is the way to ensure you’re not just “doing” social media, but “being” and engaging and caring company.

Why No Business Can Ignore Social Media

It’s not always laziness. A lot of business professionals are caught up in being successful. It’s easy to be too busy making money to devote effort to social media. The thing is, when someone is thinking like that, they are only thinking about engaging prospects and turning them into new customers.

But that is only half of what social media is.

The other half is darker: People complain. The internet, specifically social media has given the consumer the megaphone. A decade of reputation building can be undone in 24 hours by an angry customer. So a key aspect of social media is risk mitigation, and that does demand attention, even in good times.

So how exactly do you mitigate risk in social media? Hint: don’t ignore people. Many people just want to be heard. They may calm down or be gratified even if you don’t fix the problem, just by knowing you care.

Think of a real-life situation. Someone stands up in the middle of a little league game and starts loudly voicing complaints about your company. What would you do? You would probably address them directly, get them to calm down, and take the conversation elsewhere. That’s exactly what you do in social media.

Pro tip: a lot of “what to do” in social media comes right from what you’d do in a similar physical situation. I self-servingly call it JD’s Law of Normalcy.

This is often a good time to practice some form of Positively Outstanding Service. Where in the past, POS usually only secured you loyalty from a customer and maybe their inner circle of friends and family, POS can now ripple through the internet, bringing inestimable returns.

So make it public that you care and that you will address the person privately. That shows everyone you care and may plant a seed of doubt as to the validity of the complaint. Then through private messages (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) or whatever method of communication, handle the customer as you would any complaining customer. Bear in mind that whatever the outcome, good or bad, they may tell the world of that too.

Set up your pages and profiles as per my article How to Not Use Social Media, and set notifications. Also Google your own company name from time to time, and have other people with interest keep an eye out for trouble for you. Listening and timely response is the only way to manage risk in the world of social media.

How To Win Over a Competitors Unhappy Customers

You see it one day in your news feed. Someone you know to be a customer of one of your competitors are complaining bitterly. ‘This is my chance.’ you think to yourself. You gleefully tweet back that you understand their frustration and would be happy to treat them right. Boom, one point for the home team. Easy win, right?

But you never hear from them. What happened?

I’m just going to call it JD’s Law of Normalcy: Treat online interactions like in-person interactions.

Imagine there is a girl (or guy) you always liked, but they were with someone else. Then one day you find them alone, weeping, and sure enough they just had a break-up. Would you put an arm around them and say “I’m sorry you’re sad, but I’ll be your new boyfriend”?

No, you wouldn’t. So applying JD’s Law of Normalcy, you wouldn’t do that online with prospects either. It just comes across wrong. Too opportunistic, too predatory, even if you have genuine motives.

So what should you do?

Again, apply the LoN. You would comfort that person, and leave it there. Your concern is solicitation enough in that circumstance. The same is true online. Show that you’re listening, show you care, and leave it there. Walk away. Definitely take future opportunities to engage them without being too direct. You see where this is going now.

Tone is Everything

A well dressed man is screaming into his cell phone, angry about something going down at work. His wife steps out on the walk beside him, at which point he ends the call, kisses her on the temple and says “Hey babe, ready to go?” in his for-her-only voice.

With a shrill holler and a whistle he heralds a cab. Once inside he uses his firm command voice to instruct the driver where to go. Once underway, he dials a friend and cheerfully invites him to a dinner event.

In less than sixty seconds one person expressed himself in five distinct voices. He’s not unstable—he’s human. His communication fits his listener.

But when it comes to written communication, too many companies seem comfortable with the idea of their voice sounding like the Encyclopedia Britannica. Some consider an air of formality as “professional” or “safe”, not realizing it is only as professional as an internal memo, and is neither safe nor competitive.

I’ve heard things like “Google can use silly error messages because they are so big.” seemingly oblivious to the fact that fun system messages was part of the initial appeal that led to Google becoming a giant.

For your marketing you have to use your sales voice. You have to be friendly, inviting, personable, even a little vulnerable to get that relationship established. If it’s so acceptable on the sales floor, why not on your Facebook page?