Image Lies in the Hands of the Consumer: Working with the Middle Men to Change Brand Perception

Brand perceptions are driven by the things your customers are saying about their experience with your organization.

As a marketer, you have complete control over creating brand awareness. However, that whole part of the funnel in which your costumers are actually contemplating and researching a purchase decisions—they are looking for someone other than your brand to weigh in.

I’ve been hearing a lot of marketing worry about this.

The concern seems to exist in the fact that a consumer’s brand perception is now the brand’s reality. A brand doesn’t get to shape an image directly for themselves anymore. Rather, image lies in the hands of the consumer.

Thus brands often feel like they have to throw perceptions and image to the wind and hope that they aren’t picked up by a tornado of unhappy consumers and destroyed.

However, it’s my opinion that we aren’t as powerless in shaping brand perception as we sometimes feel.

Yes, brands are getting talked about more than ever across all social platforms and a negative tweet can be seen by thousands. But, a rave tweet can also be seen by thousands.

It’s all about having the right “middle men” to talk about a brand experience. Ambassadors, influencers, advocates, happy consumers, call them what you want—understand that they have the power to make or break a brand now more than ever.

Marketers have an advantage when they really grasp this fact. So pause for a moment and grasp. I’ll wait.

Now, let’s discuss how you can find the right people to work with to change and modernize perceptions of your brand.

A good formula consists of understanding and preparing for the time commitment to this strategy, setting up communication with current brand, finding new influencers who fall in to your brand’s niche, and equipping everyone with a brand experience that encourages conversation.

Setting Expectations

The number one woe that I’ve heard from clients who implement this strategy is that at the beginning it’s a time consuming process and the cycle can be a little long. But, no one has ever said it wasn’t worth the time.

Once a network is created and fostered and on the way to talk about you in the world, the cycle tightens up and doesn’t become such a long process for future initiatives.

Building the Right Network of Brand Ambassadors

Whether you’re communicating with current brand fans or people that you’re trying to build in to a champion of your brand, making sure you build a network is the most crucial step in molding brand perceptions.

  • They will help you discover the identity of your brand and what your target audience wants to see
  • They will help you by talking about your brand with juicy word of mouth mentions

Communicate With Your Network (They Hold Secrets)

By having a pulse on all of your consumers and people who live in your social network you can find out everything you need to know about your current brand’s perception and how to change the areas that aren’t as positive as you’d like.

Sending out surveys and emails not only make your network feel like part of your brand—which they love—but also gives them a chance to have a voice. This voice will tell you exactly how they feel and you can use this to make changes to combat negative perceptions. This strategy is a modernization of the concept of a “focus group.”

Foster WOMM from Current Brand Fans

Through social listening and a detailed examination of your current network, you can locate all of the people who already like your brand and have talked about you.

Now, you need to keep in touch, you need to stay on their brains.

Setting up a monthly newsletter or communication process so that you are sharing new information, awesome products and resources will foster communication with the fans you already have. It will also keep you on their minds and give them information on your brand to share with their own networks.

Another way to foster conversations about your brand is to have a list of people that you send free stuff to. Whether it’s a funny t-shirt, a new product you’ve launched or a birthday gift—this consistent sending of “appreciation items” will show your network how much they’re valued and keep them around as a crucial part of your brand’s success.

Locate New Fans

You can never have too many fans. So part of your outreach marketing strategy to improve and/or change brand perception is making sure you’re always on the lookout for new influencers to introduce your brand to.

These influencers need to be people who will love your brand, they just don’t know it yet. Thus, they are a super snug contextual fit with your brand.

The process of building up these relationships is different and longer than the process of fostering word of mouth recommendations from your current network.

You first have to introduce your brand to new people and get them interested. Next you have to make sure an authentic like (or love) for your brand occurs. After a little bit of nurturing then these influencers can be added to your network of brand fans and communicated with regularly as I outlined in that part of the plan above.

Give Them Something to Talk About

Obviously a positive experience with your brand is going to be talked about but did you know you can do better than that?

  • Producing content in the forms of videos and infographics that don’t talk about your brand but they address a pain point your consumers experience is something worth talking about.
  • When you release a new product or information—give exclusive access to your brand fans. They will be sure to share in the best possible way.
  • Have events just for them. A client or network appreciation event not only increases their positive perception of your brand but it also gives them photo opps to share and blog posts to write about you.
  • Share your brand’s human element with your consumers and influencers. From a cool story to how your brand came to be or unique values that your company holds to interesting things that happen in your office—a human side of a brand is a great element to any story.

Authentic Brand Experience

One of the most important things when creating a positive image to make sure you are not marketing your brand—you’re marketing an experience.

Think about this: a fashion brand sends a blogger a dress and the blogger takes pictures of herself in the dress and writes a post centered on the quality of the dress, why it’s comfortable and that she’s excited to wear it to a cocktail party.

It’s not a bad earned mention by any means, but, do you think this blogger’s audience is sharing this post a lot and really engaging with it? Probably not…

Now: a fashion brand sends a blogger a dress to wear to her birthday dinner out with the family. The blogger takes pictures of herself wearing her dress in a real scenario and an experience of a nice dinner in a nice dress is captured. A bigger picture takes shape. A whole experience with the dress has happened.

A strategy that focuses on earning brand experience posts and mentions instead of item centric mentions will be so much more successful.

Wendy’s did a great job of this with their launch of Frosty’s in a cone. They sent high profile bloggers to try the Frosty and take pictures of themselves consuming it while doing something that was nostalgic to them. So much cooler than asking the blogger to show up at Wendy’s and snap a photo in the fast food joint right?

Tips to Start Right Now

I know I’ve thrown A TON of information at you with this post so let’s hit the key points again so you can start implementing your strategy to work with middle men to create positive brand perceptions.

  • Get a pulse on current network of brand fans
  • Reach out to them to find out how they view your brand. Ask them what they love and hate.
  • Create a plan to consistently communicate with your brand’s fans.
  • Make sure to reward word of mouth brand mentions with presents from your brand.
  • Create a plan to reach out to new influencers to mold in to brand advocates. You may want a tool to help you identify the right people—there are some good ones.
  • Give your network information to talk about with their own network.
  • Remember to always market a brand experience—not just your brand by implementing campaigns that give all of your middle men a way to experience your brand

What advice can you offer for working with middle men to improve the quality of a brand’s perception? Please share your experience in the comments!

 

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