How an Already Damaged Reputation Got Worse and Worse

We’ve all witnessed how impaired corporate or brand image can undermine both consumer trust and financial performance. Recently, Target’s CEO was relieved of his duties because of the massive customer account security breach which occurred during his watch. The poster child of negative reputation, at least in the U.S., has been British Petroleum. BP’s then-president of U.S. operations was forced from office because of some ill-conceived and dismissive language, and BP’s corporate behavior since the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster has been of little help in image recovery.

We’ve all witnessed how impaired corporate or brand image can undermine both consumer trust and financial performance. Recently, Target’s CEO was relieved of his duties because of the massive customer account security breach which occurred during his watch. The poster child of negative reputation, at least in the U.S., has been British Petroleum. BP’s then-president of U.S. operations was forced from office because of some ill-conceived and dismissive language, and BP’s corporate behavior since the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster has been of little help in image recovery.

British Petroleum has recently “celebrated” four years of cleanup and payout in the Gulf by announcing the end of active cleanup of the 500 miles of coastline from Louisiana to Florida, the result of 87 consecutive days of oil pouring from the Deepwater Horizon rig of its Macondo Project. After dealing with issues over the health and economic impact by setting up a multibillion-dollar cleanup fund, conducting a massive image PR repair campaign, and paying huge federal fines, BP had originally agreed to keep its corporate cash register open for environmental and business claims as long as they were what the company termed as “legitimate.” Though this began as an eagerness to address and settle these damages as a way to manage its impaired reputation, it has now devolved into legal, and very public, name-calling between BP and claimants.

Not including Federal fines, BP’s payout to Gulf Region businesses and residents has thusfar totaled almost $10 billion. The sheer volume and financially cascading nature of these claims, it turns out, was way beyond BP’s reckoning; and the company began to openly challenge many of them as “nonexistent and artificially calculated” in court. In mid-2013, BP even took out full-page ads in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, claiming that attorneys were filing dubious and hyper-inflated claims on behalf of Gulf-area businesses. As stated by a BP spokesperson at the time, “The litigation is seeking to rectify the misinterpretations of the settlement that have led to inflated, exaggerated or wholly fictitious claims … will continue unabated.” Not exactly image-restoring language, and a direct slap at the federal judge who drafted the financial agreement.. By the Fall of 2013, BP’s attorneys were appealing one out of every five claims received.

BP was also receiving massive negative publicity due to both real and suspected improprieties among its legal staff involved in processing claims, with one lawyer fired for accepting fees from claimants and another lawyer resigning. The suspicions were so strong that the Freeh Group, a firm headed by former FBI director Louis Freeh, was brought in (by a consortium of attorneys and BP) to investigate. Numerous “inappropriate” actions by the claims department were uncovered in the investigation; and one sidebar result was that, following the publication of its report, the Freeh Group took a more visible and active role in overseeing claims.

One result of this outside claims takeover has been more rigorous inspection of individual claims, even taking back payments (which Freeh’s team was empowered to do), if the original payment was deemed excessive or illegitimate. BP has been public about its support of the added scrutiny; while area attorneys and local government and other civic officials have noted how this has stifled claims filings.

Still, even as BP has pulled back in the Gulf, and gotten people to stop filing, it has left continued sore feelings by claimants, and those whose claims are either under investigation or still yet to be resolved. An example of this is a shrimper from Slidell. After extensive documentation consisting of multiple years of tax returns, financial statements and shrimping reports showing the vast sums the Louisiana shrimper had lost over several seasons, directly as a result of the Deepwater Horizon spill, he was paid about 7 percent of what had been claimed. To keep his business going, he had to take out loans. He also refiled his claim, but BP delayed it by beginning yet another investigation into his filing papers. As he told the area press: “BP is giving me the runaround.” Is this really the way to reclaim trust and bring back its image?

Who’s Talking About Me Behind My Back?

Celebrities are masters at constantly keeping their names in the spotlight. Whether on purpose (think Kim Kardashian) or not (think Justin Bieber), these brands are constantly vying for attention through every marketing channel available. While most large businesses have a cadre of resources constantly tracking and controlling their brand image, the nearly 28 million U.S. small businesses are not so lucky

Celebrities are masters at constantly keeping their names in the spotlight. Whether on purpose (think Kim Kardashian) or not (think Justin Bieber), these brands are constantly vying for attention through every marketing channel available.

While most large businesses have a cadre of resources constantly tracking and controlling their brand image, the nearly 28 million U.S. small businesses are not so lucky. From Facebook rants (distributed to a limited audience) to public floggings in a Yelp review, smaller businesses must be ever-mindful that, in the blink of an eye, a disgruntled customer can turn a less-than-stellar experience into a devastating business downturn.

That said, what can a smaller business do to better manage those voices in the marketplace?

  • Stop the rant before it starts: This seems obvious, but it’s too often overlooked. As soon as you encounter that disgruntled customer, offer to make it “right.” Sometimes that means suffering a financial loss on an order, but just remember these stats: The average American knows about 600 people, and the average number of friends of a Facebook user is 359. Each of those Facebook friends has 359 friends (on average), so the bad review/rant can be distributed very quickly across a vast network of people. One small loss to keep a customer happy isn’t worth the uncontrollable spread of bad publicity.
  • Understand the pesky truth about Yelp: Yelp receives hundreds of thousands of reviews each day, and uses filtering software to analyze and post those reviews that their software algorithm deems as most accurate. Their goal is to weed out the “fake” reviews and not include them in the overall rating of your business. However, if you carefully look at the bottom of your Yelp page, you’ll see how many additional reviews you’ve received noted as “(X other reviews that are not currently recommended)”, and if you click on that link, it will take you to your other reviews. In some instances you’ll see great reviews and other examples are terrible reviews. The reality is, Yelp aims to give publicly displayed reviews that best reflect what the software has analyzed to be “most accurate.” Realize that you can always add commentary to a bad review with an explanation of what you did to try and make it right with that customer.
  • Instantly monitor mentions of you on the web: Google has a nifty tool that allows you to monitor the internet (within Google’s database) for content that contains any keyword you want to monitor. So if I wanted to monitor my business (Goodman Marketing or Goodman Marketing Partners), Google Alerts sends me messages when those keywords appear on other websites or blogs. This allows you to respond to a positive review or address a negative review quickly. You can also monitor your competition (and take advantage of an issue!). The only requirement is that you have a gmail account.
  • Stimulate positive conversations about your business: This is the real benefit of engaging with social media. By posting interesting content on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or constantly providing links to worthwhile content on LinkedIn and Twitter will help increase your legitimacy, value and “likes” in the marketplace. I try to post regularly to both LinkedIn and Twitter—not just about content that I’ve created, but to content that I think is valuable to others in my marketing sphere. Read and post comments on the blogs of others, respond to questions within LinkedIn Discussion Groups, and add value that can demonstrate your expertise. All these efforts will help improve the perception of you and your business in the minds of your audience.

Why Your Engaging Content Won’t Produce Leads

The ugly truth is, for many of us, engaging customers creates profitless prosperity—impressive marketing statistics that don’t ultimately, directly help generate leads and sales. Engagement is creating momentary value that is aloof from any kind of sales lead management process. Yet businesses who do create sales using social selling know something the rest of us don’t. Let’s find out what that something is.

The ugly truth is, for many of us, engaging customers creates profitless prosperity—impressive marketing statistics that don’t ultimately, directly help generate leads and sales. Engagement is creating momentary value that is aloof from any kind of sales lead management process. Yet businesses who do create sales using social selling know something the rest of us don’t. Let’s find out what that something is.

Why We’re Failing to Sell with Engagement
For years now, we’ve been rising each morning, downing our coffee and suffering through questions like, “How do I know what to blog each day?” And the biggie, “How do I become engaging enough to produce leads and sales?”

Most of us are busy producing engaging content on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and other social media. But in the end, even our most engaging blogs, YouTube videos and other forms of online publication fail to produce leads and sales. At best, sales are blindly attributed to content as part of a mass media branding success using fuzzy math. Why?

My on-going research confirms it: We’re failing to create sales engaging social media because we’re building content marketing on an outdated foundation. We’re clinging to mass media advertising ideas and values. Instead, we should be exploiting direct response marketing tactics.

“Marketers often come from two distinct backgrounds,” says best-selling author and IBM distinguished engineer Mike Moran.

“Brand marketers are the ones whose work you see on TV. They are all about branding, brand image, brand awareness—use whatever word you want—and their success has made Coca-Cola and many other consumer products into household names. Direct marketers are decidedly less sexy … constantly searching for the next idea that increases response. They are all about sales, and couldn’t care less about brand image as long as the cash register rings.”

Moran says engagement marketers with an interest in driving sales have much to learn from the practice of direct response marketing. Again, it’s not about influencing or leading thought, it’s about being a thought provoker.

How to Always Make the Sale
Why do so many of us pursue getting “liked” on Facebook or followed on Twitter? Because of this single idea: getting a lot of customers’ attention (reach) over and over (frequency) is enough to earn a sale … somehow, sometime. This is how advertising works.

Today’s best social sellers do not believe for a minute that exposure to engaging content will result in a sale. They have no faith that it will produce a lead. Rather, they believe in, and execute on, carefully mixing in calls-to-action. The content they create solves customers’ problems or vividly demonstrates (proves … think “infomercial”) compelling experiences relating to their service.

The best way to sell on Facebook is to solve customers’ problems (yes “for free”) in ways that earn trust and ultimately help them navigate their way toward your paid products and services. And by the way, I’m not saying attention or branding doesn’t matter. It does. I’m simply saying it’s not enough. Stopping at earning customers fleeting attention is a sure-fire losing strategy online.

I say avoid getting sucked into the profitless prosperity black hole by thinking in terms of direct response marketing when engaging with social media and content marketing. What do you think?

Today’s Top Marketers Are Translators, Publishers of Utilities

You can’t control customers anymore. You need to enter the conversation or risk becoming an irrelevant brand. And when you start conversing, you must be transparent and humanize yourself. You need to be monitoring the pulse of your brand image, mapping customers’ social graphs and architecting personas. Sound familiar?

You can’t control customers anymore. You need to enter the conversation or risk becoming an irrelevant brand. And when you start conversing, you must be transparent and humanize yourself. You need to be monitoring the pulse of your brand image, mapping customers’ social graphs and architecting personas. Sound familiar?

But rather than look at these typical Web 2.0 statements as valid, let’s question them at the core. No, you haven’t lost control of your customers. No the conversation they’re having about you isn’t really new … it’s just amplified and expedited by the social Web. Your brand image is “humanized” and you are honest with customers.
The truth is that what social media gurus and content marketing experts are offering as business advice is often outside of the context of a very important question:

“How can I use digital media to create sales, better products and improved experiences for my customers?”

Many social experts are well-intended but selling the wrong answers to the right questions.

If we continue to believe the hype-and-spin—that the rules of business have forever changed—we risk believing that engaging, tweeting and friending is more important than making sales or capturing leads. Or believing that somehow all we need to do is “do social media” and the sales will roll right-on-in.

Creating sales and leads using the social Web demands we see the big lie as a lie: The fundamental rules governing your business have not changed! There is no social media revolution … just a chance at evolution.

Leading social marketers are now translators. They’re discovering customer need, analyzing it, feeding it back into marketing programs and amping up optimization—generating more leads, more often.

The opportunity is to discover hidden customer need, tonurture and capture it by publishing and by creating knowledge-based utilities. That’s how I see it. How about you?