Startups and Reputation Management

About a decade ago, the online business was still in its early days. Digital marketing was still new and in its infancy. The mobile phones had picked up but people were not spending majority of their free time on the phones. There was social media, but it wasn’t the lifeline for millions.

Today, the scenario is very different with people spending majority of their free time online. Mobile phones have become a part of our daily lives, so much so that one cannot even spend a day without his/her mobile phone. Consumers are spending more and more time reading about the product they want to buy, exploring reviews online, checking out what existing customers have to say about their experience with the product, and also reading about the brand’s values, purpose etc. Websites, social networks and online advertising are cannot be ignored by businesses across industries, if they want a successful marketing strategy. 

Reputation management has emerged as an important aspect for businesses in today’s times, with the rise of social media and the change in customer behavior. Companies need to focus on building and protecting their reputation as it can have a huge impact on their business. 

What is reputation for an organisation?

According to Oxford Dictionary, reputation is defined as ‘the beliefs and opinions that are generally held about someone or something.’ Corporate reputation is intangible. It is a function of the actions and behavior of an organisation. Interestingly, it is considered in context with a company’s competitors. It is the reputation that builds opinions for stakeholders who may not know the organisation well. Good reputation is built on trust gained over the years and is a function of consistency in brand’s delivery on their vision, product and people.

With the new media, stories no longer have a shelf life. Negative stories can reemerge any time. Also, stories can go global. Online media has ensured that customers have an edge. It is the customers who have the power to define how a brand is perceived today. Anyone and everyone is a publisher. Hence, reputation management is critical for brands. A simple event can snowball to become a massive crisis. Reputation management has become even more difficult than what it was when digital media was not around and brands need to focus on this, rather than leaving reputation management for a better day or when it is really needed.

Reputation management for startups

Reputation management is instrumental in building brand credibility and trust. Startups may be new or emerging, with a disruptive business model. They may be trying to transform the way we live our lives. They are young and hence, it becomes even more critical for them to focus on reputation management from their early years. They need to do great work, talk about it to the external world, build trust and credibility so as to build on their customer base and stand a good chance if they are competing against the already established lot.

Take the example of a fintech company. As a customer, one will not trust a newbie fintech company that does not have much positive reputation, is not well-known, has low trust levels and negligible reviews online. A customer may opt for a more expensive one, but the one he/she can trust with money and financial transactions. 

With millions of searches being done every day, online reputation management has become the ‘need of the hour’. Customers do their research, read reviews and then decide if they want to buy a product or avail a service. There will be negative reviews that you will encounter, as a startup. A small issue can be highlighted by a customer on online platforms, as he/she may not have enough trust on the startup. This could reach out to millions of existing and prospective customers. Good online reputation will come in handy in such cases in reducing the damage and act as the company’s insurance cover in such scenarios. 

Benefits of good reputation:

Online reputation of a startup can affect or disrupt its growth. A good reputation has a number of benefits. It can boost a brand’s popularity and help better engagement with customers. It can help in building transparency and trust. Customers today appreciate brands that are open, honest and communicative. Brands that are accountable when something goes wrong, are honest about their products and services, and address their customer’s concerns; they are seen as more credible. 

Here are some more benefits of good reputation:

Helps drive sales

Good online reputation can help brands have a competitive advantage over others in the market. Consumers prefer to buy from brands that have a good brand reputation and are recommended by existing customers. Also, customers tend to recommend brands that can be trusted or are credible to their friends and followers. This in turn can help increase sales.

Reach new customers and better engage existing ones

For a startup that might be working with low marketing budgets and trying to cut corners, focusing on building a good online reputation can do wonders with regards to gaining new customers and increasing sales.

With positive buzz or posts around the brand by an influencer or a customer, the startup has an opportunity to reach out to new set of customers. It is possible that the prospective customers search for the brand/ product and come across the positive review.

Better customer engagement

Startups with an online presence can communicate with their customers by exchanging content. Conversations with customers can help to better understand the customer nuances and also make the customer feel that the brand cares. With social media, startups have an opportunity to build an online personality for themselves. They can position themselves as ‘cool’, ‘innovative’, ‘fun’ etc., in line with their values and target audience, by smartly following the tone in their posts and conversations. This can help build a better connect with the customers. A number of startups have successfully been able to position themselves well, thereby connecting better with their target audience. 

Positive impact on regulators, lawmakers and customers

A startup does not have years of legacy to back up and hence, if it is keen to reach out to regulators or lawmakers with regards to its business, it faces a large number of roadblocks. A startup with a good brand reputation can have it easy in this case. There are a number of young startups whose founders have focused on reputation management from its initial days and it has helped them get their point across to regulators and lawmakers.

Also, most of the young B2B startups face issues when they want to reach out to large or established enterprises to sell their product or explore an alliance. They struggle to reach the right stakeholder and tend to miss out due to lack of brand credibility. This is where good reputation can help. A startup that has a great online reputation can find it easier to crack customers or partner with large companies.

Manage crisis better

If a brand has focused on building its reputation and has a high trust quotient amongst its customers, it helps the brand to sail through the tough times. Brands like Nokia and Nestle were able to sail through product related crises and emerge as ‘trusted brands’ because they had high credibility. Good reputation acts as a buffer during times of crisis, as stakeholders continue to extend support to the brand. It lowers the risk and helps the brand to bounce back faster.

Attract and retain good talent

Startups with a good reputation find it easy to attract and retain good talent. The buzz around the good work being done by the brand helps to build the confidence as well as gain interest of talented individuals.

Attract investors

You may have the best idea or the most path-breaking product but if you are not talking about it, don’t have your customers sharing their experiences or influencers posting about it, don’t have positive reviews around it, it is as good as not being there. In order to attract investors, it is not only important to have a create investor deck, but also focus on building the brand’s reputation.

To conclude, implementing strategies to build and protect online reputation is crucial for startups. They should focus on encouraging positive reviews, leveraging content marketing, and interacting with customers. Also, impactful public relations and communications can help a brand build its reputation. 

Startup founders should understand that reputation management is critical for startups and not something they can focus when they are of a considerable size.  Building a good reputation will give startups a clear edge over its competitors.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Akanksha Jain
Akanksha heads PR and Communication at BharatPe. She has over 15 years of experience in working across global/digital public relations, corporate and brand communications, crisis communications, brand and market communications domains.

In the past, Akanksha has successfully planned and executed public relations/brands campaigns across India and over 30 other countries. She is a start-up specialist and has extensive experience of working with emerging brands. She has been associated with brands like Pine Labs, MobiKwik, VLCC and Power2SME and spearheaded their PR/brand/communication campaigns.

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