As marketers, we are used to giving our products and services a thorough coat of beeswax to make sure our businesses are in showroom condition before we expose them to customers. But online, the customer wants to have a look under the bonnet, and what’s more, they have access to the tools and channels to do just that, whether we want them to or not.
There is both massive opportunity and massive threat in this. The threat for those running second-rate businesses and hoping to cover the chipped paintwork and rust with a lick of paint and a drop of polish is that first-rate marketing no longer covers second-rate business. Reciprocally, the tremendous opportunity for marketers and business owners is that with the right online strategy, the relationship between how well you run your business and how positively your business is perceived has never been closer.
Reputation is the lifeblood of any business, and on the web finding out about the reputation of anything – a business, a town, a person – is very straightforward.
With apologies in advance to the fine folk of Ballymena who may be reading this, I’m going to indulge in a little stereotyping that would make Andy Gray blush. Ballymena was in the news back in November 2010, because a suspicious object was found in the town centre. In response to the news story on the BBC website, social media speculation was rife regarding what this object may have been:
An open mind?
Two people not related?
An open wallet?
A good looking person … aka, a tourist?
The point is easily and loosely made, reputation precedes comment, and reputation is invariably magnified in social media.
So effectively, what is already believed and known gets amplified and enhanced. Happy customers who have bought from good businesses comment on how well they’ve been treated and angry customers have the perfect vehicle to let the world know how lousy their treatment has been.
Lakeland, for example
Contrast the fortune of Northern Ireland’s thriftiest town with the fine folk of creative kitchenware company Lakeland.
In the current dwelling of this author, Lakeland is a big hero. My wife contacted the company a few years ago when an item arrived with a minor fault, to see how she could return it. “Don’t bother returning it Mrs Dunlop,” they replied, “that’s too much trouble for you, we’ll send you a new one right away”. Late last year, she received a customer feedback note, and made a small comment about an item she had received, and stressed that the issue was so minor that she would never have mentioned it but for the fact they had asked. Lo and behold, a fortnight later, a new item arrived.
Take a trip into social media and you’ll see my wife isn’t the only person feeling the love for Lakeland. The firm only needs to say the most casual things and it is showered with affection. A comment last year about a customer service award it won resulted into hundreds of ‘likes’ and dozens of comments from customers, saying the award was well-deserved.
Lakeland loves nothing more than opening the bonnet on its business and letting as many people as want to have a look inside. Because Lakeland knows that the more people see what it is really like, the more people will like the company, buy from the company, and recommend the company to their friends.
This isn’t the only win for Lakeland. I don’t know for sure, but I bet you it needs to spend less on beeswax than any of its competitors.
Gareth Dunlop is managing director of the leading digital consultancy iON. Its customers are in 15 countries and include The Commonwealth Secretariat, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Oklahoma Publishing and Goldman Sachs.
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