Reputational Risks Brands Face in 2020 and What to Do About Them

The CMO Council touched on many of the reputational risks that marketers need to have on their radar in 2020 and beyond. Below are five brand risks that I believe will be widespread in the year ahead, along with a bit of advice for marketers.

Marketers are responsible for building, managing, and protecting corporate brands. Considering how quickly a brand can go from loved to loathed, being a brand custodian is a daunting task. With a tarnished reputation, companies lose customers, employees, investors, and value.

In a recently released pictogram and listicle, “Bruised, Battered, and Embattled Brands,” The CMO Council highlighted 20 of the most challenged brands in 2019 and 15 of the most critical issues impacting brand perception. The CMO Council touched on many of the reputational risks that marketers need to have on their radar in 2020 and beyond.

Below are five brand risks that I believe will be widespread in the year ahead, along with a bit of advice for marketers.

Privacy and Security Incidents

Trust is fundamental to brand reputation. Companies want their customers to trust them and feel secure transacting with their company. Maintaining data privacy and keeping information secure is a customer expectation, and rightly so. And while privacy and security are not new reputational risks, CCPA ups the ante and no company wants to be the first company penalized and publicized for failure to comply.

Advice: Build alignment between marketing and privacy teams, with a focus on transparency, trust, and preparedness.

Polarizing Politics

2019 brought to light many politicized issues in workplaces, such as the Wayfair worker protest against the sale of beds to migrant camps. As we embark on an election year, companies will continue to be thrust into the political divide, whether they like it or not.

Advice: Companies need to establish their political boundaries and clearly communicate any limitations to their stakeholders; in particular employees, or they risk being the next brand battleground.

Marketing and Advertising Fails

Brand snafus are identified and discussed at an unprecedented rate across social and digital channels. Peloton’s holiday advertisement is a prime example of an ad campaign turned viral branding criticism. The Peloton scrutiny expanded well beyond social, with coverage across national news outlets and even an “SNL” skit.

Advice: Test your marketing programs with a wide audience before launch. Monitor social and digital conversations about your brand. When all else fails, apologize sincerely.

Compromised Health and Safety

PG&E, Boeing, and Juul failed consumers and their brand reputations have taken a massive hit. All three landed on the CMO Council’s list of companies in the crosshairs. A company that is negligent about health and safety will face devastating reputational consequences.

Advice: Hurting people (or any living thing) is never OK. If your company is careless and harmful, get your resume in order, immediately.

Management Missteps

Behavior in the corner office is under the microscope like never before. Executives are (finally) being held responsible for how they treat employees and for their ethics. With CEO turnover at an all-time high, far too many of these changes are being driven by misconduct, as we saw with the abrupt departure of McDonald’s CEO over a violation of company policy related to a consensual relationship.

Advice: View leadership changes as an opportunity to redefine the brand. Follow a clear playbook to reassure internal and external stakeholders.

No Risk, No Reward

There will undoubtedly be brand reputation winners and losers this year. However, responsible marketers understand the risks they may face and can learn from the mistakes of those who’ve suffered before them.

11 Best Practices for Email Acquisition and Engagement

The income generated by your email marketing is directly related to the quality of your email address list. A list filled with highly targeted prospects and customers delivers solid response rates, clickthrough and revenue. Acquiring addresses for the people most likely to respond to your email marketing and sending relevant content should be top priorities for every company.

The income generated by your email marketing is directly related to the quality of your email address list. A list filled with highly targeted prospects and customers delivers solid response rates, clickthrough and revenue. Acquiring addresses for the people most likely to respond to your email marketing and sending relevant content should be top priorities for every company.

The best strategies capture email addresses at a variety of locations and use customized messaging to motivate participation in the marketing program. Moving people past the resistance to share their email address is only the first step in a multi-faceted strategy. Every email from the initial “Welcome to our program” to routine promotional messages must speak directly to the recipients or risk triggering opt-out activity.

Overcoming the inertia created by using a tool that consistently generates responses is one of the biggest challenges faced by email marketers. The “if it isn’t broken, why fix it?” thought process prevents email programs from generating even more revenue and building better relationships. The only way to move past this is to implement a continuous improvement policy and test everything.

Continuous improvement begins with best practices. Using the results from tests by others is a good way to insure that you will not reinvent their mistakes. Once the best practices are in place, testing different ways to engage customers and prospects is easier and more effective. Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Measure Everything: Capturing every piece of data is important because it creates benchmarks for improvement. If the data isn’t immediately convertible to usable information, save it. Hard drives are cheap and trying to regenerate lost data is hard.
  2. Customize Welcome Emails: Subscribers from different sources have different expectations. Create customized emails that recognize the difference and speak directly to the recipients. If your email marketing service provider doesn’t have this capability and changing isn’t an option right now, speak to the persona most likely to become a long-term profitable customer.
  3. Capture Email Addresses at Point of Sale: Offering to email receipts reduces customer resistance to sharing information and provides a second opportunity to encourage program participation when people don’t automatically opt in.
  4. Give People a Tangible Reason for Signing Up to Receive Your Emails: Offering a discount on the next purchase encourages the sign-up and future purchases. If people don’t respond to the discount, test sending a reminder just before the coupon expires. (Note: if you don’t have the ability to identify the people who responded, don’t send the reminder. Doing so tells them that they weren’t recognized when they returned and undermines the relationship.)
  5. Offer People a Sign-up Choice Between Email and Text Messages: When given a choice, people are more likely to choose one than none. It simultaneously grows your email and mobile marketing programs.
  6. Use Pop-ups to Encourage Sign-ups: Pop-ups are the acquisition method that people love to hate. Forget the hate talk and go with the test results because it is also the method that delivers high response rates.
  7. Personalize Everything: Relationships are personal. Sending generic emails will not create loyal customers. Create an email marketing program that is personal and customized for individuals and you’ll get lifelong, highly profitable customers.
  8. Keep Your Data Clean: Email hygiene services verify your addresses and reduce spam risk. A good send reputation keeps the spaminators at bay, improves deliverability, and connects you to people interested in your products and services.
  9. Create Second Chance Offers for People Who Don’t Opt In: Automatically opting people in when they provide their email address for other reasons can reduce deliverability and your send reputation. Use a second chance offer to encourage people who didn’t opt in to change their mind.
  10. Segment Well: Sending the same email to everyone generates results. Creating specialized emails based on people’s behavior and preferences generates much better results. In addition to the immediate response, customized emails make people more likely to open and respond to future messages.
  11. Test Everything: General best practices are simply rules of thumb that provide a starting point for successful email marketing programs. The best way to optimize your program is to test different tactics and use the information to fine-tune future mailings.

Marketing as a Function of Your Entire Organization

In a world where earned content is increasingly influencing marketing programs, marketing as a function is changing. Marketing can no longer live solely in your marketing department. From customer service to product development to human resources, it must live everywhere in your organization. If marketing isn’t tied to your overall business strategy, it’s pretty much useless.

In a world where earned content is increasingly influencing marketing programs, marketing as a function is changing. Marketing can no longer live solely in your marketing department. From customer service to product development to human resources, it must live everywhere in your organization. If marketing isn’t tied to your overall business strategy, it’s pretty much useless.

The most telling example is the synergy between marketing and customer service. Do your customer-facing employees sit in the marketing department? No, they work on the front line, in the field, in your stores and service centers. Depending on how they interact with your customers, they foster either customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Your customer-facing employees thus wield incredible potential to influence your earned content.

Earned content is content that’s created by your customers on behalf of your brand. It could be a great review on Yelp, a gripe on Twitter, a user-generated YouTube video, a Facebook “Like” or a Google +1. Earned content has a powerful impact on your online marketing. It’s word-of-mouth marketing on search results pages and social networks. Your marketing department stays awake at night brainstorming ways to generate positive earned content and minimize negative earned content. But ironically, it’s your customer-facing employees — not your marketing department — that largely influence this content.

Consider this famous internet video: “A Comcast Technician Sleeping on My Couch.” This video is five years old and still ranks No. 15 in a search for “Comcast” on Google. It’s gotten 1.7 million views and 1,600 comments on YouTube. The video’s comments section is a gripe board for Comcast customers. The video is a thorn in the side of Comcast’s search marketing department, negatively affecting its reputation for years. Yet the video would never have existed if that one technician didn’t fall asleep on that customer’s couch. This example reinforces John Battelle’s point that the search engine index is the modern-day equivalent of carving our stories into stone.

Redefining performance marketing is about making the investment needed to bake marketing into every function of your organization. It’s about ensuring that all functions embrace your universal value proposition, central brand methodology and key benefit statements. This increases the likelihood that your customers actually get what your marketing department is promoting, including the right service, the right product, the promised benefit or the promised reward.

Baking marketing into every function is also about ensuring that each department knows that what it does influences marketing (sometimes in a huge way, as in the Comcast example or the recent Netflix price change which created an uproar in earned media). This not only includes how your customer service employees act, but how your product team develops products, what your executives say to the media, how your HR department screens job candidates and so on.

Making marketing an integrated function of your organization fuels the earned marketing engine. It sets the performance marketing spiral in motion as that earned content informs brand perception for the next person in market for your product or service.