The ACTE Column: Reputation is everything

Modern communications technology can be a boon to brand promotion - but make sure you stay ahead of the game.

ANY PUBLICITY used to be good publicity, but accessibility and speed of open-source communications have raised the stakes in reputation management. Companies invest vast amounts of time, money and resources to avoid negative press, hiring people and implementing technology focusing on PR to protect and enhance brand image.

Marketing departments make around 70 per cent of decisions about which charities companies will support. Companies encourage staff to volunteer and fundraise to foster well-being among employees. However, while still helping those in greater need, such benevolence may not be entirely altruistic. Charitable association enables companies to connect with consumers by mirroring customer values; a connection that can, arguably, help a brand stand out and lead to more sales.

To prove the importance of brand reputation, Harvard Business School's Thought Leadership group creates an annual index to identify the most influential brands in the UK and US.

Six of the top 10 are technology focused, which should come as no surprise. High street retailers use sophisticated technology behind loyalty cards to identify spending preferences. Accumulated data is used to stock outlets and to target consumers with relevant offers. Online retailers use collective data to suggest what else we may be interested in, based on products purchased by others with similar spending habits. The consumer feels understood; they trust the brand and spend more.

Corporate suppliers are learning from leisure distribution channels. They are communicating directly with business travellers through loyalty programmes and online check-in to promote product sales, seat and class upgrades; yet, if paid through mobile devices, expenditure may be difficult to trace. There is no stopping this runaway train so we must identify solutions and ensure travel programmes are customer- rather than company-centric.

While we don't know who writes product reviews, whether authors have similar values and expectations to us or even if they are written by real customers, peer reviews form a key part of an online retailer's strategy. Business-focused peer reviews will become more influential in the corporate travel strategy. Travellers will be able to share real-time perspectives on preferred supplier service delivery and product quality and a traveller with a voice is more likely to be compliant. Real-time reviews are useful in negotiations, enable corporate purchasers to monitor which suppliers are aligned with company goals, and proactively rectify shortfalls.

We will see gaming techniques emerging as a way to influence, rather than dictate, behaviour. It may be hard to envisage a practical corporate application for the equivalent to Facebook's Mafia Wars or FarmVille, but recognition is a highly effective employee reward. Public acknowledgement for good corporate citizenship through virtual credits may soon be considered the norm.

Younger travelling executives will need different channels of communication and reward. Their expectations will change. Business will become more democratic. Even if you are not a Gen Y (born after 1975) executive, your customers and employees will be, so when setting company strategy, it is increasingly important to understand the most influential avenues to communicate with your internal and external customers.

ACTE
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