In his famous quote, Jeff Bezos gets to the heart of the definition of brand perception: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Branding is the process of influencing the way people perceive you so they’ll choose you over the competition; but ultimately, your brand is what your customers say it is.
Your goal is to make sure how you want them to perceive you and their actual experience is in alignment.
It’s up to you to fulfill the brand promises you make and the expectations you set.
Keep in mind that your brand is largely determined by people’s experiences, not how cool your logo is or how pretty your website. It’s emotional. So the goal is to create an experience people will love anywhere and anytime your customers interact with your business.
Every single interaction you have with your customer is an opportunity for you to fulfill your brand promise.
Here are 3 things you can do to improve brand perception:
1. Collect customer feedback
I’ve had clients come to me in desperation to help them fix perceptions and broaden their customer base by improving their visual brand identity.
But when it isn’t combined with a genuine commitment to fixing the underlying problems, it’s like changing the packaging on a turd. It might create a little bump in sales, but eventually, things will go right back to where they were.
There’s no magical design cure for bad customer experience.
Here’s a real conversation that took place with a former client many years ago, a restaurant owner:
Me: “One tactic successful restaurants I’ve worked with use is to put customer feedback cards on the table when they present the check. I could design one for you! This way we can get to the heart of what’s going on. What do you think?”
Client: “Oh hell no. That’ll just open up a can of worms … people like to bitch and complain about everything and I don’t want to deal with that.”
Instead of paying a few hundred bucks to get some customer feedback, they spent $40,000 on a fancy custom bar commissioned by a local artist, tens of thousands more on radio ads and other advertising, spent thousands more building a website and hiring marketers to build up their social media presence.
“Look at us! Remember us! Buy from us!”
A big advertising budget is no substitute for having a strong brand.
Meanwhile, their Yelp! page was filled with reviews describing how their food and service had gone downhill, and stories of employees drunk on duty and making scenes and other horrible things. They were losing customers faster than they were gaining them, and any new customers they acquired as a result of their promotional efforts didn’t become loyal or tell their friends.
Nobody from the restaurant ever addressed any of the disappointed customers or did a single thing to resolve the underlying issues. Head? Meet sand.
Within a year they were bankrupt and out of business, and I don’t mind telling you this cautionary tale because they filed bankruptcy before they paid my final bill. 😡
If you’re struggling with customer loyalty, you must focus on fixing your issues before rebranding
But even if you’re not, or if you’re just starting out, being brave enough to ask your customers for feedback is one of the best things you can do.
It will not only help you understand how to create an even better experience, but it’ll also help you gain clarity about your brand by learning about it from their perspective–and this will help you hone and perfect your brand message.
Every time I wrap up a project, I send out a customer survey (I use Google Forms for this – so easy). I ask them:
- How satisfied are you with the communication and responsiveness you received working with me?
- How satisfied are you with the training and/or guidance you received?
- How satisfied are you with the final result of your project?
- How likely are you to refer me to others?
- What specific area(s) of my service do you feel needs improvement? In what ways might I have made your experience better?
- What specific ways, if any, have I helped you or helped you solve a problem?
- Any pleasant or unpleasant surprises?
This may feel a little scary at first, but it’s better to know if something is out of alignment with what you’re claiming in your marketing efforts.
Positive feedback is equally informative and important
What you assume makes your customers love you might be completely different than what the actual reasons are!
Getting positive feedback will shed light on your strengths and the value they received that you weren’t aware of. You can use this feedback to make new brand promises to people who don’t know you yet.
You can also use it as social proof to back up your marketing claims in the form of customer testimonials, reviews, and social media comments.We're always so focused on acquiring new customers that we forget to focus on the ones we have. And yet, it's exponentially easier and cheaper to keep a customer you have than to get a new one.Click To Tweet
How can we improve retention? How can we inspire customer loyalty? How can we learn from their experience to improve with the next customer? The very best way to find out is to ask them.
2. Behave like everyone’s watching—because they are
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of professionalism in creating your personal brand online. Here are some real statements I’ve heard from business owners in online business and entrepreneur communities:
- “Don’t worry about people unsubscribing from your list, consider yourself lucky you purged all the leeches who just want free content.”
- “I can help you get more traffic from Pinterest, feel free to send me an email but only if you’re serious.”
- “Be firm about your refund policy and don’t over promise, too many people are just out to take advantage of you.”
Now, these may not have been conversations with customers, but thousands of people read those statements because they were posted online. While I can understand why people get cynical, how do you think people perceive these business owners?
Are you paying lip service to your brand values or are you walking the walk?
These people have made their view of the world, their values, clear: “Customers are not to be trusted.”
And whether they were aware of it or not, they were “branding” an impression on people about what it’s like to work with them. Ain’t no logo in the world gonna fix that y’all!
Be mindful of what you share, what you write, and how you speak. People work with other people, not logos.
This is not to say that you should never have a controversial opinion or express who you are—you absolutely SHOULD. Nobody likes interacting with robotically-professional people who never let their guard down, express a personal opinion, or allow themselves to appear less than perfect, mere mortals like the rest of us.
- You can admit mistakes, even failure
- You can admit that you don’t know things
- You can admit that you feel passionate about things, issues, and causes personally
People dig it when you’re authentic and vulnerable. My point is to just be mindful of it.
Make sure that what you share online is in alignment with the brand experience you wish to create.
In the examples above, “customers are not to be trusted” probably isn’t how those people would describe their brand values.
Micro-interactions are a huge opportunity online
What lacks in a lot of our business interactions these days is humanity—we don’t have time for it, we’re all too busy shouting for attention. As a result, people have forgotten good old-fashioned manners: they forget that there are other people on the receiving side of every interaction, no matter how small.
I call these “micro-interactions”—things like:
- Responding to a comment left on one of your Tweets
- Replying to an email even if you don’t stand to gain anything from it, just leaving people hanging
- Saying “thank you” when somebody answers a question or gives you a moment of their time to do something on your behalf
You might say “I don’t have time for all that, do you know how much time that would eat up?”
If you’ve got so many people engaging with you that you don’t have time for a simple, “Thanks!” then you’re probably doing so well in your business you can hire someone to help you out.
Billions of these tiny interactions happen online every day and people don’t expect all that much anymore. And therein lies the opportunity to stand out.
Be the person who doesn’t just push one-way messages and ignore what’s coming back to them. Be the person who approaches others with appreciation and respect.
Use automation tools with caution
If you use automation tools to promote your business on social media but you’re not monitoring to see whether there are live human beings engaging with you, you’re just broadcasting. Making noise. And what a pity, because you’re missing a lot of opportunities to create real connections.
Here’s the thing: You never know when somebody’s on the other end thinking, “Gee, they seemed so great, but they ignored me, so I’m not going to…
- Share their content
- Connect with them on social
- Sign up for their email list
- Recommend them to others
- Bookmark their site for when I’m ready
- Hire them
You just never know.
On the other hand, when you’re a real human and you take a minute to engage, you’ll create an even stronger bond with that person.
Tiny interactions can lead to strong brand perceptions
Recently I read a great book and sent a DM to the author on Twitter to tell her how it inspired me. A couple of weeks went by and no response and it didn’t mean much, that’s how it is these days. (Sometimes it feels like, “Hello?! Is anybody out there!?” amirite?)
Eventually, she got back to me with a brief and sweet message, “That’s so great to hear Taughnee! Here’s to a great year!” When I retweet her content, she thanks me. When I recommend her book, she thanks me.
My feelings were reinforced that she’s legit, professional, human, authentic. Because I have a positive feeling about her, I joined her mailing list and her Facebook group and well, I’m deep into her sales funnel now! 🙂
By taking a second to do these things, guess what she’s created? An ally. Had she never gotten back to me at all, I probably wouldn’t have done any of those things.
That positive feeling? That’s her brand.
3. Design the brand experience you want them to have
As brand consultant, my work with clients is all about uncovering the reasons why customers should choose them over the competition and then helping them create the branding assets they need to communicate those reasons in their marketing efforts (the strategy, the messaging and the visual identity).
But I go a step further and I ask my clients about ways they can take their desired perception–the brand characteristics we choose to focus on–and infuse those characteristics into their work with clients.
If they want their brand perception to be a reliable, trusted expert in their niche–what policies, processes, resources, even services can they create to ensure when their work together is through, their customers will automatically describe them as a “reliable, trusted expert” to others?
This is something I go deeper into in my book, The Brand Story Blueprint. It’s about understanding the external and internal problems your customers face and how you’ll guide them to a solution in a way only you can. This is your brand story (your customer’s story + your story).
Whether you’re just starting out in business or you want to clarify and nail your brand message to attract more of the right people to you, this is a great first step.
Understanding the promise is the foundation, then it’s a matter of implementation–making sure you’re communicating it and then living up to it in everything you do. This is the way to create a brand perception that’s in alignment with the brand you want to build.
It’s hard out there to get visibility, so we have to constantly be on the lookout for ways we can do it a little better, and do things a little differently than how everyone else is doing it. Little things matter—empathy, listening, what we say and all of our micro-interactions
You become a beloved brand when you care about your customers’ experience and respect the people around you, and this inspires a positive brand perception and ultimately, brand loyalty.
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.