Business is built on customer relationships, and brand perception sets the tone. Today’s consumers share their opinions and experiences widely, and their peers trust them when it comes time to buy or pass.
In fact, after having a positive experience with a company, 77% of customers would recommend the brand to a friend.
Companies, of course, want to cultivate a positive brand perception among their target consumers, but it’s a tricky goal. As research from Salesforce’s 2018 “State of the Connected Customer” report shows, today’s buyers are more knowledgable and less loyal than ever before.
Consumers are looking for better experiences and are willing to switch brands until they find one that meets their needs. Which is why creating and maintaining a unique brand matters.
So how can companies monitor and understand consumer brand perception when they’re looking at it from inside the box? We’ll cover some tools and methods that help brands capture it.
The Basics of Brand Perception
Some of a company’s brand perception can be attributed to what the company says and how it says it.
But it’s not just messaging that steers the ship. Customers’ combined interactions with your business or product contribute to their overall brand perception too. In fact, 55.3% of consumers are loyal to a brand because they love the product. Giving out good deals and having great customer service comes next.
Customers make judgment calls about your brand when they read an online review, make a purchase, talk to employees, read a news story, or hear about a friend’s experience.
All of these interactions, combined with the messaging you control, make up a customer’s brand perception. The basic goal of brand perception strategies is to develop brand value and increase brand equity.
What influences brand perception?
The most important thing to know about the factors that influence brand perception is that they reside with your customers, not your business.
Brand perception is not only what your company says it represents - it’s what your customers believe your products, services, and company as a whole represent.
Common factors that influence how consumers perceive your brand include:
Advertising: what message are you conveying with your company’s advertisements? Do they line up with how your brand actually operates? What do you emphasize or leave out in your ads?
Personal experience: what experiences do customers have with your company, whether that’s in-person or online or a combination. What do your stores feel like to browse, what does your website feel like to visit, how do their social media interactions with your brand go?
Customer service: when customers have an issue with a product or a question about a service, how does your customer service team treat them? With the rise of social media platforms, customer service can extend to some interactions there as well.
Reputation: what is your company’s reputation in media outlets and in other online sources? How do people talk about your brand online and in person?
Branding: what does your company’s brand indicate about your business and your values? Do your actions align with that branding?
Price: is your price point indicative of the quality and experience you provide, or are you failing to match customer expectations? For example, IKEA customers are aware they’re trading the convenience of having furniture assembled for them for lower prices, and they see the value in that trade-off. If you’re charging high prices but providing lower quality, however, customers may develop a negative perception of your brand.
Positioning: does your company occupy a distinctive space in the market? Are you living up to how you position yourself - for example, if you stand out because of your company’s environmental consciousness, but not always taking an eco-conscious stand?
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Why is brand perception important?
Your customers matter, and so do their opinions. If your customers believe in your brand, they will have more confidence in purchasing your products and recommending your services to others.
Negative brand perception has strong repercussions as well, among both your existing customers and your potential new ones.
Keeping an eye on your brand perception by measuring it regularly, benchmarking it over a period of time, and identifying and making needed improvements are all vital exercises in managing your brand perception.
Advantages of positive brand perception
Positive brand perception means consumers are more likely to choose your business over a competitor. It also means that they’re likely to bring in new customers to your business since 60% of customers will refer friends and family to their favorite brands.
This kind of word-of-mouth marketing is extremely valuable in a world saturated with marketing messages. People trust recommendations from those they know more than the slick promises of a company advertisement.
In other words, brand perception impacts your bottom line—a lot.
Positive brand perception gives customers a reason to stick with your business for the long term because it increases their customer loyalty.
Buyers these days expect more than just a product from a purchase - they also want to build a relationship with your business. Positive brand perception encourages them to stick with you because your business is perceived positively, and that positive perception may extend to how they’re perceived too.
Consequences of negative brand perception
Negative brand perception has consequences for your business as well.
When your brand perception is poor, consumers are more likely to go to a competitor for their next purchase. They’re also more likely to tell other potential customers why they’ve decided to stop shopping at your company as well, which will cost you new customers.
And overall, having a negative brand perception can result in a loss of trust with your customers. Think of the backlash that United Airlines received when they forcibly removed a passenger from an overbooked flight in 2017 - while people still fly with them, their brand perception and customer trust levels suffered significantly.
The gap in customer and company perception
Companies often assume they know how customers feel about them. After all, they talk to them and help them solve problems daily. Based on these interactions alone, companies tend to inflate brand perception, believing it to be more positive than it really is.
According to a Bain and Company study, even though 80% of companies say they provide great experiences, only about 8% of customers agree.
Why is there such a large divide between what customers are experiencing and what companies say they offer? It could be that companies are not operating in a truly customer-centric way, and offering experiences that customers don’t value while ignoring the ones they do.
Or it’s possible that companies simply aren’t aware of the gap between what they promise and what they deliver, like strong corporate values or excellent customer service. The image of your company internally may reflect where you aspire to be, instead of where you actually stand today.
That gap is why it’s vital to measure and monitor your brand perception - you can’t assume you know how customers feel about your business if you don’t check in with them.
By measuring brand perception reliably, companies get an honest look at the factors driving and killing brand loyalty.
Monitoring brand perception
If you really want to know what people think of you, start by listening. Online communities are ever-expanding and the web is dense, but there are several tactics you can use to measure brand perception efficiently.
1. Sign up for Google Alerts
No one has time to monitor the web for mentions. Google Alerts does the searching for you. If you’re not using it already, start.
You just tell Google what keywords you’d like to monitor—like your company’s name, a specific product/service you offer, or competitive terms. Anytime those keywords appear online, Google will send you an email alert.
It only takes seconds to sign up.
2. Read online reviews
According to a Brightlocal survey, 91% of 18 to 34 year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
People trust reviews even in the B2B space, where 92% of buyers are more likely to make a purchase after reading a trusted review.
Review sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, G2Crowd, and Salesforce AppExchange are ripe with feedback, and you can bet potential customers are reading it as they evaluate your business.
Social listening tools should notify you of these reviews and mentions, but it’s good to track reviews diligently—and encourage happy customers to share their opinions publicly.
3. Respond to social media posts
Social is steadily rising to the top of all customer engagement channels, and it will likely stay there.
In fact, 63% of customers now expect brands to offer customer service on social media platforms and 90% of social media users have communicated with a brand or business through social media.
Businesses that up their social media game can receive impressive results as people are increasingly using social media to research products they want to buy.
It’s common for your current and prospective customers to scan your social media interactions to get a sense of your brand’s customer care standards before making a purchase.
So make sure you read and respond to all comments, especially the bad ones, in a timely manner.
4. Survey customers
Customer surveys are one of the best tools you can use to measure brand perception. There are a variety of survey types that capture feedback at critical moments of the customer journey. Here are just a few:
A customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey measures customer health and sentiment by asking customers targeted questions. It’s usually sent after a specific customer experience—like a purchase, customer support interaction, or store visit.
Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) measures customer loyalty with a simple question: How likely are you to recommend us? The NPS survey is typically sent at specific stages of the customer lifecycle, and it’s a fantastic way to identify brand advocates or brand detractors.
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Acting on brand perception insights
Listening to what your customers have to say about your company can be a difficult exercise. It’s not pleasant to hear negative sentiments about your work, even if they’re sandwiched in with positive feedback.
But negative feedback is valuable to your organization. It tells you where you can make the most effective and impactful improvements to your company so that your brand perception trends more positive over time.
While customers control brand perception, that doesn’t mean your company can’t take steps to influence their perception.
Refresh your branding
If your brand perception research tells you that your current brand isn’t resonating with consumers, it might be time for a refresh. Look into revamping your logos or color pallette, reviewing your look and feel, and potentially your ads and company slogan.
A refresh can give your business a much-needed update, especially if your company has been around a long time. It will ensure your outer image matches up with what your company is doing right now.
Ask your employees
Knowing what your customers think is vital to your brand perception, but don’t forget to ask your employees what they think as well. After all, they’re the ones who are out there every day making, selling, marketing, and servicing your company’s products and services.
Their insider perspective combined with their customer-facing experience is invaluable. Ask employees what they think in surveys, in focus groups, or set up an online anonymous suggestion box.
It can help to offer options for anonymity in employee surveys like these because you want to encourage people to share their most honest thoughts without the fear of retribution.
Get leaders on board
Your senior leadership team needs to lead the charge to change your company’s brand perception. That means they need to be willing to accept open and honest feedback and see things from a different perspective in order to effect real change.
If your current leadership team isn’t entirely onboard with these changes, or they don’t see the need to shift your brand image to something more positive, you either need to convince them to get on board or get some fresh voices in the room.
And it’s easier to get them excited, and keep them on track, when they can track their progress in real-time using metrics like those provided in GetFeedback analytics.
Be open to future opportunities
Working to change your brand perception can be tough. It takes time and thoughtfulness and a willingness to undergo internal change as well. As the world changes rapidly and news travels quickly, more and more disruptions are likely to happen in your business.
You should be ready to diversify from your brand’s traditional core when needed. Promising areas for your brand might pop up where you least expect them and offer an opportunity to change and improve your brand perception - be ready to take those when they arrive.
Brand perception is often a mystery to companies, but it doesn’t have to be. Companies can monitor brand perception and affect enormous change by combining customer surveys with the other tools and processes above.
An effective customer feedback program provides a constant stream of valuable insights from the people that have the greatest impact on your success: customers. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at how audiences engage and react to your brand, so you can gradually improve.