By Patti Rowlson

How do people describe you and/or your business when you’re not around? Do they use words like friendly, warm and inviting? Or, do they use words like arrogant, frustrating, swindler?

Your reputation impacts how much money you must spend on marketing. Have a good reputation? Pay less. Have a bad one? Pay more.

Similar to choosing the right location for a retail storefront, building a positive reputation can save you a ton of money on marketing and advertising.

Example: If you pick a storefront location that is off the beaten path, you may have cheaper rent, but you’ll have to spend much more on advertising and marketing to get people to your door. You may have to offer discounted prices to get consumers to go out of their way to visit you. The $400 more you’d be spending per month on a super visible space is nothing compared to the real cost of choosing the lower rent location.

The same can be said for reputation management. If you have a bad reputation, you’ll have to spend more on marketing and advertising to offset that damage.

You may need to hire a PR consultant or expert marketers to help generate positive reviews and manage negative ones.

By the way, this is not recommended as a quick-fix solution, and I’d never recommend paying for fake reviews! You can partner with a public relations pro to help identify issues, work to improve communication and messaging or change your operations and style to better align with consumer expectations.

On the flip side, if you have a great reputation, your customers will turn into loyal brand advocates. They’ll do a lot of marketing for you for free. Everything is easier when you have built a positive reputation.

Below are two examples, one of a business that has a bad reputation – earned over time – and one of a business that is quickly building a good one.

Example 1: Don’t be like this!

During a recent conversation with a friend, the subject of real estate came up. We had both bought and sold homes in the past three years and were grateful to have purchased when we did as the market has gone up and up since that time.

My friend began explaining the process of their purchase and sale transactions. The description of their experience was quickly riddled with statements about the agent they worked with being arrogant and cocky. They said the agent promised things during the listing process that were not delivered upon during closing. They reported being handed off to assistants as soon as the listing paperwork was signed; they felt like a cog in the wheel. They used curse words to explain how frustrating the process was and how they would never, never recommend that agent to another person.

Ouch.

As I listened, a name came to mind, because I remember another person mentioning an agent they had worked with in recent years. They had spoken of a very similar experience – attitude, unfulfilled promises. They walked away from an expensive transaction and a milestone purchase point in their life – what should have been happy and joyful – feeling gross and kind of swindled.

Turns out that both stories were, in fact, about the same person. That person – because of their attitude and actions – has built a solid reputation for being a jerk. Neither client felt good about having to pay that agent for their services.

Those two consumers will never hire that person again. They will also continue to tell everyone they know to steer clear of that agent and, instead, choose one of the many lovely agents in our community who have built solid reputations for communicating well, guiding their clients along every step of the way, delivering on what was promised and closing each transaction with positive vibes and well wishes.

The lesson in this example is that your reputation matters in every community, no matter the size. If you have a terrible reputation, you’ll have to spend more money on marketing and advertising to counterbalance your reputation. You won’t be able to tap into the power of person-to-person, word-of-mouth marketing, which is free!

Example 2: Be like this!

Another example of reputation-building relates to a new pedicure business that opened in Bellingham. I visited the salon on the first day they opened to the public. The owner greeted me warmly; the staff were sweet. I felt good being there from the start, and it felt different than other salons I had been to.

Since opening day, the owner has remembered my name. If she sees me walking by the salon on other days, we wave at each other. She remembers that I was the first customer to make an appointment with the business when it opened. When I left a positive review for the business on Google (unsolicited), she thanked me when I was next in.

Once, I took a friend with me so she could check the salon out (free word-of-mouth marketing). About 30 minutes after we left, the salon owner texted me to personally thank me for bringing my friend. As a marketing consultant, I appreciated that simple, free and effective customer relations action.

This new business is quickly growing and thriving because the owner and employees treat everyone who walks in the door the same way. They had created a clean, warm and inviting atmosphere where customers feel welcome and appreciated.

Boom! That’s the magic; that’s the secret sauce to business success.

A piggy bank stands alone against a white background, under the words "great customer service is a marketing investment."

The interesting thing is that this salon charges a bit more for their services than competitors in the area, but I don’t mind paying it because, as a consumer, I feel good about supporting the kind employees. I want this business to succeed, and I appreciate the personalized, real-life communication style – not an automated text thanking me for coming in but a real text from the business owner expressing gratitude.

In my book, interactions with real people win over automated contacts every time!

The lesson in this example is that if you have a positive reputation, if you are kind and genuine and provide a product or service that people feel good about, they will organically talk about it (free advertising!). They will want your business to succeed, and they might even be willing to pay a bit more for what you do.

It’s simple. Building a positive reputation can save your business money on marketing and advertising. Making customers feel good when they interact with your business – totally free to do! – can help turn them into brand advocates. No discounts, gifts or rewards are necessary when you work to earn customer loyalty in transparent, positive ways. Cool, right?

If your business (or one that you’re familiar with) is on the edge – teetering between “Be like this!” and “Don’t be like this!” – and you would like a bit of advice and coaching related to PR and reputation management, please reach out. Business branding improvements begin with awareness and a willingness to do better. Whether it’s with online review management, corporate branding or business advice, we’re here to help.

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