Maintaining your brand reputation in the new normal

Martin Devlin
Nick Fewings

Brand Reputation – It’s a matter of trust

There is an old saying that trust arrives on foot but departs on horseback.

Brand reputation is a measure of the trust people have in a brand. Trust that is developed over time and which eventually becomes an important component in how people perceive a brand.

In pre-Covid times, a brand’s reputation was generally based on tangible aspects such as the quality of product or service matched to the price expectations of the target audience and their need for a solution to a specific problem.

Brand vision and mission statements were slightly more intangible in nature, used to present the bigger aspirational values and motivations behind the brand to engage on an emotional level with desired audiences.

Post-Covid-19, If a brand doesn’t live up to the brand values, or fails to respond to wider changes in public sentiment or wider societal issues, the emotional link with audiences is lost, the trust they have placed in the brand is undermined and the reputation of the brand is damaged.

Customer evaluation of brands

We saw something very interesting play out in the public domain during the Covid-19 pandemic. We saw the power of celebrity endorsement of brands weaken. There was a palpable sense that celebrities didn’t matter and their power to influence opinion or action became counterproductive.

A report by Opinium found that approximately 69% of consumers preferred to hear from employees or the CEO of a brand with only around 5% of those polled wanting to hear from celebrities.

Trust and reputation were being based on a different set of factors and many brands were caught on a back-foot by either resting on their laurels or by not responding appropriately to the new benchmarks consumers were applying in their purchasing decisions.

We witnessed tone-deaf responses from some major consumer brands such as Sports Direct, Wetherspoons and Virgin, all making public statements or taking actions that appeared to ignore public sentiment and the expectations of their customers and the wider public.

Charities don’t seem to have adapted to this new norm either with only 14% of consumers feeling that the Charity sector responded well during the pandemic. As we come out of the national lock-down, many charities appear to have relaunched celebrity led campaigns despite the changes in audience attitudes. Add this to research showing that people expect to give less to charitable causes in the coming months, these charities should review the efficacy of their campaigns and any potential damage to their reputations by being seen to be out-of-step with public sentiment.

Key factors for maintaining brand reputation post Covid-19

Transparency – Particularly in relation to how brands treat their employees or supply chain partners. 

With the impact on employment nationally and globally affecting everyone’s pockets, consumer decisions about who they buy from have been heavily influenced by concern over their personal financial security along with a wider concern over the financial security of others who are like them, employees, not bosses or brand owners.

Any business or brand perceived to be doing more to protect itself at the expense of others during the pandemic lost the goodwill and trust of their existing customers.

Reciprocity – Show that customer loyalty is appreciated and is a two-way transaction, be loyal to your customers.

Recognise their changed needs, circumstances and worries. Accept that no-one is coming out of the pandemic financially unscathed (unless of course you are Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos) and look at how you can make it easier and less painful on the pocket to purchase your products or services.

Look at what rewards you might be able to offer loyal or new customers, or what your brand can do for the wider community.

Apple for example maintained brand reputation by offering a benefit that didn’t even affect their bottom line – an extended returns period for products purchased during the pandemic. The key is to be as customer-centric in approach as possible, both in communication and in delivery and after sales service.

Authenticity – 60% of consumers value a brand’s authenticity and adherence to its core values. 43% will walk away if they are disappointed by a brand’s word’s or actions on a social issue or in response to a crisis. Authenticity has to be demonstrated in everything the brand does or says.

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