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How a mobile world is changing brand perceptions

In the early days of brand building, marketing communication was a one-way street. Just as corporate management worked top-down, it was the corporations who decided what people would say about their products or services. They controlled all messaging, even editorial content was managed to some extent. Listening was pretty much non-existent, but nobody knew any better. They didn’t expect to be asked for their opinion. It might have even been seen as a weakness in those times. You heard what was shared through mass media, and you either accepted it or you didn’t. Most people chose to trust the “official” brand narrative.

Of course, people did talk. They shared their experiences, good or bad, with others. Around the dinner table. Over drinks after work. Just like today. If a brand didn’t live up to its claims, some people would eventually find out. But the opportunity to instantly transmit your complaints to people around the globe simply didn’t exist.

Today, our connection to everyone and everything through ever-present mobile devices has changed everything. One in six people worldwide is connected on Facebook. The first thing many people do when they sit down in a restaurant is pull out the smart phone and check in. When you have thousands of friends or followers, you can share a bad customer service experience as soon as it happens in a way that can make a very big impact on the brand. One poor public relations exchange has done massive damage to several well-known brands because of the power of instant communications. In one case last year, a rude exchange by Email with a blogger who had tens of thousands of followers brought a major company to its knees as the blog posts were published, sharing the message exchange in pretty much real time and then being passed along to millions more pretty much instantly.

What does this mean for brands?

First of all, we need to remember that brands have always been more fragile than individuals. A person can face a significant amount of negative feedback and stand tall, eventually recovering. Companies, once they fall from grace, usually find it impossible to recover.

This means you better have a crisis plan. By planning ahead how you’ll respond to a negative situation, you can keep the worst situations from causing long-term damage. Be prepared. Know what you’ll say and do if your product causes problems, and especially if those problems are only perceived and not real.

Secondly, don’t give your social media or public relations responsibilities to young, inexperienced people. Yes, they are the ones who know the language of today’s communication. It seems, on the surface, that they would be best suited to handle these tasks. But they don’t have the maturity that comes from experience. Even the best young person doesn’t have enough life experience to understand how quickly the wrong word, phrase, or response can turn into a PR disaster. You’re much better off to hire older people for these roles, and train them to “get” social media through training. Have young people work with them, but allow the more mature people to have the control over how your brand communicates.

Most of all, you need to evaluate your brand value with a critical mind. Today, no brand can survive, never mind grow, unless it actually represents a product or service that has real value. A lack of substance means you’ll go nowhere, because instant sharing will expose such a lack in no time.

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George Pytlik

George Pytlik has been involved in the advertising industry for over 30 years and designed his first website when the Internet was one year old. He was an internationally recognized speaker on advertising and branding and served on a number of communication committees at various times throughout his career, as well as writing a regular column for Marketing magazine.

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