Influencing Consumer Behavior: Brand Versus Reputation, a Perspective

How does one influence consumer behavior? Below I discuss two key areas to do so – branding and reputation. The lines between the two sometimes seem blurred. Is there a difference between the two? Let’s take a look.

Brand and Reputation As One

There are a number of aspects to a brand. I sometimes refer to them in a summation statement,

“a brand is a promise of an experience, delivered.”

“The promise of an experience” is a brand definition phrase used in the public domain. But I add the word “delivered” to update that phrase and to recognize the digital world’s impact and importance on reputation. It is also a great phrase to turn around on ones brand practices and ask, “Are we delivering on our brand promises?” This takes in to account reputation. Something we will address further down below in this article.

More on Brand Definitions. Insights into Consumer Attraction to Brands.

Branding typically addresses companies products and services. Specifically communicating things like shopping-user experience, expertise, and value. Factors that influence these and other brand communications include: attributes and characteristics and/or personality. Traits that are found intrinsically in what a business offers and how they conduct themselves. These factors, when recognized, should also play a role in creating a company culture; such as in deciding who to hire within an organization. They can even help dictate what direction a company’s leadership takes in providing new or enhanced products and services. It can also guide decisions that determine the most synergistic organizations to partner with or the best suited vendors to work with.

These brand aspects are best addressed and presented in a way that resonates with ones target audience — or as some now call it, “tribe.” How do you do this? Do it in a way that answers consumers inner self-talk questions like, “What’s in it for me?”

Hill and Knowlton, a communications firm, is attributed to defining brand as follows:

A BRAND is the sum of perceptions, held primarily by a company’s current and potential customers or clients, about a company’s specific product, service, or line of products or services.

Hill and Knowlton’s definition speaks to my brand definition as “a promise of an experience, delivered.” But isolates and focuses in on the product and services of a business. If this definition, like a coin, had a flip side, another general brand definition might be:

A BRAND is the way in which a company presents themselves to the world. I’d go on to say, “in every way, shape and form.”

In this second definition the focus is different. It emphasizes that ones brand is represented by tangible elements that create a visual, auditory, and olfactory brand identity. For example, your brand logo, color palette, marketing materials, letterhead, signage, messaging, and so on. They are all tangible representations of your brand that make up its sensory identity. It does not take in to account the perceptions the public has about a company’s specific product(s) or services.

In summary, these definitions indicate that there are many aspects to a brand, including: 1) how the products and services and opportunities of a business are physically presented and communicated to 2) how the public responds to those brand messages, and 3) how they judge the actual experience they have with the products and services delivered.

However, their are deep internal forces from within a consumer’s psyche that exponentially impact the sum value of a brand and how a consumer responds to it. These forces can be comprehended simply by accessing our own inner dialogue. The kind we can relate to in others. An inner dialogue that addresses what we aspire to be or have in our life and speaks to what we value in our lives and gives purposeful meaning to it. When a brand speaks to all of these touchstones of importance in our life and fills a need or want then the value of that brand increases exponentially.

How do you tap in to this inner dialogue of your target audience? By addressing and speaking to answers your target audience comes up with when they ask themselves the following questions: “what do I stand for?” and “what kind of experience do I want to have (expectations)?” and “How do I want people to see me?”

These questions build on the widely used base question all consumers ask, “What’s in it for me.”

Provide a brand experience that falls in line to the answers a consumer has to these questions above and your brand value soars with them. And consumers will begin to evangelize and share with others their association with your brand. Wearing and sharing and exhibiting your brand will give them a means of expressing who they are. It will help them attract and connect with others of like mind. It will be a means of forming tribal bonds with others. After all, biologically speaking, we are herders for survival – and for thriving. Plus, an organic positive reputation is born and/or spread.

Reputation in a Digital World

Reputation can be seen more recently in the public’s use of online rating services, communities, forums and blogging publications. There are a number of reputation topics that enter in to public discussion. People often think of it in the context of customer service and/or the experience and deliverability of a product or service.

brand-awakening-create-customers-to-create-quoteReputation also includes corporate action, culture and policy in the context of things like integrity, citizenship, and community building.

The impact of one’s reputation and public favorability varies depending on competition and marketplace conditions such as economic ups and downs – and ultimately the values of consumers and the social pressures around them.

Hill and Knowlton has differentiated a brand from reputation when they define reputation as:

REPUTATION is the sum of perceptions about a company’s corporate actions held by the public in the areas where the company operates.

A less traditional, corporate PR minded reputation definition, that takes into account the digital age, would state:

REPUTATION* is how others individually or collectively perceive or judge your company, your company’s specific product, service, or line of products or services.

*Note: in the digital world of review sites, social media and instant messaging people increasingly account  specifically for individual employees and owners by name when addressing the topic of reputation – especially within smaller businesses and in local reviews.

Conduct Brand and Reputation Management Synergistically

With the advent of the digital world which has brought us platforms like YELP! and Google Review one must conduct brand and reputation management synergistically. Particularly because the rating system of these review platforms and consumer’s training to filter choice based on these rating systems can lose you customers to competitors. Even if you were the better choice – based on the level of product or service or customer care provided.

These rating service systems such as YELP! and Google Review do not always accurately distinguish between the brand, reputation of reviewers, product or services, and customer service. Who you are, what you deliver and how you deliver it are lumped in to one distilled down perception or judgement in people’s minds – in the form of star rankings one through five. This distilled down ranking system becomes your branded reputation and is shared and spread amongst your customers or potential customers. Patient care providers and charity organization workers can get the same kind of ranking treatment as well.

Social Media Plays a Role in Reputation Management.

Now factor in how your business efforts are being shared about in the social media space. It affects your reputation too. Your reputation reviews and social signals can combine to affect your online brand presence, such as in search engine rankings.

Motivating consumer behavior works best when you deliver products and services that not only speak to a consumer’s need or desire, but is presented in a manner that resonates with them.  How you resonate with them depends on how your business communicates and services consumers; as well as how your business interacts in the community it operates in. Additionally, it includes positively addressing any public perceptions of your brand or things being shared amongst them that affect your reputation.

In the end, one motivates consumer behavior better when they work branding, sales and marketing, reputation and customer service efforts together. Resulting in a singular, responsive and engaging voice that satisfies customers who then refer new customers.