Are you struggling to make headway in the market? Are your sales figures lower than you might expect? Or maybe you're failing to convert as many leads as you need? It could be that your brand's perception is falling flat with your customers.
Every business knows that the way their customers see them is important. Your customer's view of who you are and what you stand for shapes their attitude towards you as a business and is a significant influence on whether they purchase from you. Managing the market's perception of you – good or bad – is a crucial task for any company.
According to Customers 2020: A Progress Report published by Walker Information, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the end of this year. Meaning your customers' perception of your brand and quality of service will take precedence over traditional competitive advantages like pricing, features, or usability.
It is essential to recognise that you do not define your brand's perception – your customers do. You cannot control it directly, but you can influence it and take steps to improve it. Otherwise, it will limit your growth.
Many factors combine to make up brand perception in a customer's eyes:
- Your branding – the visual look of the brand
- Press and Web coverage
- What their peers say about you
- Review sites
- Social media – posts from others about you and the things that you post
- Your public statements (and your report and accounts)
- Your content – marketing material, website, blogs, videos, etc
- All their experiences and interactions with your business and your employees
From this list, you can see that only a few of these can be managed directly. You should also note that many of these are influenced by what you say, what you do and how you carry out your business. With brand perception being a key influencer on buyer behaviour, you must be honest and open, with strong value messages, ethical practices and customer satisfaction as a priority.
Let's look at some significant reasons why your brand perception may be falling flat.
They can't relate to your brand
To feel positive about somebody or something, a person has to feel connected with them. There has to be some empathy – some shared values evident. For someone to feel positive about your business, your audience has to feel like you understand them – that they know where you are coming from and that you know what they need.
If they think you don't appreciate their issues and pain points, they will feel a sense of disconnection and fail to consider your offering seriously.
More than that, if your content's tone of voice is inappropriate – perhaps it is too flippant, or arrogant – then they will think you are talking to someone else, or worse, that you don't know what you are doing.
Getting the right character and personality in your content is vital. In multiple surveys carried out over the past two decades, inappropriate tone of voice is always a top reason people are turned off a brand, product, or piece of content.
It extends to your visual identity too – is it too bright, too youthful for your market? Or is it too dowdy or old-fashioned? It could be that the very look of your brand is what is putting your prospects off. Even the wrong choice of typeface can be a factor – perhaps it is difficult to read, or too quirky – such seemingly small niggles can still form a barrier between your buyer and a sale.
To address all these issues, you will need to understand your audience, what they are like, their values, tastes and motivations. Understand their daily tasks and their overall goals – both personal and business. This is the rationale behind the concept of a buyer persona. Only through a deep understanding of your prospects' needs will you create a brand that they can relate too.
They can't relate to your product/offer
Your branding, positioning and tone of voice may be optimal but are your product or service offerings a good fit for the market's needs? Perhaps your product is something radically new? Maybe it is something that has failed before, but is now improved and fit for purpose? Perhaps it is merely the wrong product for the wrong market.
If your audience can't relate to your product, then they will not buy it. Whether it is revolutionary or updated, you have to communicate that in a way that will allay any fears or objections your audience might have. You have to tell a story that your audience can relate to – one where they recognise the challenges, the characters, and the resolution benefits.
One of the best ways to communicate your product or service benefits is through a case study. There is nothing more powerful than the story of a real business, facing real issues and solving them by with the help of your product or service. It is something your audience can directly relate to.
You must also ask yourselves the tricky question – is the product or service actually what the market needs? Does it need updating, improving, tweaking to make it more appropriate? Should you be looking at a different product or market?
You don't know what you want to communicate
As far as your brand goes – it needs to stand for something. It needs to have an attitude, a stance on the issues affecting your target market. It needs to have a voice on ethical issues and green issues such as recycling and sustainability.
If you don't know what you want to say about these things you obviously cannot communicate them. What's worse, without guidance, different content from different authors or departments may contain conflicting messages, leaving the audience with the feeling that they can't trust you. Or perhaps more generously, you are a little confused. Either way, you will not be a business they want to buy from.
Where your brand stands on the issues and what it has to say about them should be part of the brand creation process – part of the brand's definition.
You are not communicating well
You may know what you want to say, about the issues, about the benefits of your product or service, but are you failing to get those messages across? Communication should be clear and consistent. Your approach should be concise and focussed, so the message is unmistakable, retained and understood.
Marketing today is all about content – which means that you should be publishing content regularly – but although quantity is good, it's the quality of content that needs to be maintained. It's crucial that everyone involved in producing that content is appropriately skilled and in-sync with your brand's values and messaging.
You aren't doing a good job
Unfortunately, even if you are doing a great job of marketing, content creation, brand messaging, and lead conversion, if you have unsatisfied customers for whatever reason, you will have a poor brand perception.
At all stages of the buyer's journey – whenever they interact with you, you need to ensure they have a positive experience. But that shouldn't stop once they have signed on the dotted line. Delivery, installation, on-boarding and support should all reward the buyer's decision to buy from you.
Customer support is an essential sales tool – it doesn't only keep customers happy; great support turns them into ambassadors for the brand. Satisfied customers will become powerful salespeople – believed and trusted by their peers – becoming far more effective at raising your brand's perception than you could be on your own.
However, no amount of excellent customer support and branding will compensate for an inferior product. If your product has shortcomings or failings – they will need addressing. A product that doesn't deliver on its promise is a sure-fire way to lower your brand perception and ultimately, wreck it.
You don't monitor perception and refine your message accordingly
You cannot improve your brand's perception if you don't know how the market views your brand. You cannot rely on hearsay or gut feeling when it comes to such an essential factor limiting growth.
It would help if you found out how your brand is thought of by your target audience. You need to find out if there are gaps between their perception and how you want to be perceived.
There are several ways to go about this, and using a combination of methods will yield more reliable results.
Traditionally you would hold customer focus groups to find out what your customers (and potential customers) thought of you. Often run by independent market research companies, these are still a practical approach that will provide useful feedback.
Online customer forums can be a more modern equivalent – it can be advantageous to set up community forums around your products and services just for this feedback alone.
Another 'old school' solution that still works is the customer survey – although these days they can also be conducted online. There are many ways to incorporate them before and after a sale.
You can use more specific techniques such as Net Promoter Score (NPS). Or use CSAT (Short for Customer SATisfaction) to get a snapshot of customer loyalty and satisfaction.
Social media can give you insights into customers' and prospects' feeling about your brand. By monitoring social media for key topics and brand name mentions, you can see what people say about you, your competitors, the market, and the crucial issues.
This can also lead into sentiment monitoring where each tweet, post or comment that mentions your brand gets a rating – either positive, negative or neutral. It allows you to get a rough snapshot of how people feel towards your brand over time.
Using these methods to understand how your target audience feels about your brand is essential to address any perceived shortcomings.
Brand perception is key
Seth Godin defined a brand as a set of "expectations, memories, stories and relationships" that in combination, drive the decision to choose a particular company, product or service.
If those perceptions are positive, they will buy from you, if negative, or even just neutral; they will not – preferring a brand they perceive as understanding them better who are more in tune with their values, and more able to meet all their needs.
Getting a handle on your brand's perception has never been more critical and is the first step to creating a more positive perception and raising sales.