A brand’s reputation is one of its most valuable assets. Think about the world’s most trusted and respected brands—names like Apple, Google, Amazon, YouTube, Netflix, Adidas and Disney. What do they all have in common? Among other things, an impeccable reputation.
Marketers instinctively understand the importance of protecting and maintaining a brand’s reputation, and are keenly aware of the potential negative impacts of not actively managing and monitoring online reputation. And yet the very discipline dedicated to this work—reputation management—has not received the resources or expertise it so richly deserves.
While many companies have adopted some elements of reputation management, far fewer have taken a holistic approach to the practice. There is a major performance gap between companies that simply react to what’s being said about a brand online and hope to mitigate any damage with an ad hoc strategy, versus those with a proactive and well-funded end-to-end reputation management program that can help marketers drive real business results.
Most reputation management programs are still in their infancy, according to a new research study conducted by Ad Age on behalf of DAC. A global survey comprising 886 marketing, media and agency executives conducted in March 2022 found that while 71% of respondents are concerned with managing the reputation of their brand in today’s digital advertising and social media environment, 50% are not actively executing a reputation management program Further, 67% of respondents find it challenging to identify and hire people with reputation management experience.
Gaining more support from the org
So what’s holding companies back? In part, a lack of buy-in at the highest levels of the organization. Senior leaders who think of reputation management only in terms of brand strength may be overlooking its considerable strategic benefits to the business—particularly online, where ratings and reviews have an outsized impact on sales.
More than ever, consumers pay attention to brands’ online reputations, and 98% of consumers say reviews and ratings are the most influential factor in making a purchase, surpassing things like pricing and free shipping, according to a 2021 survey by PowerReviews.
These sentiments often translate into increased conversions and sales. Studies show that products with at least five quality reviews increase the chance of purchase by 270%, and consumers spend 49% more with companies that respond to their reviews than those that don’t. Further, product pages with reviews convert buyers 3.5 times more than those without, according to a study by Bazaarvoice. The impact of ratings and reviews extends beyond products, and into locations. For example, a study by the Harvard Business Review found that for every star increase on Yelp, businesses see a revenue increase of between 5% and 9%.
Companies that lack a strong reputation management program risk falling behind in these key areas. For example, a recently released study by ReviewTrackers found that companies aren’t responding fast enough (if at all) to reviews. More than half (53%) of customers in the survey said they expect businesses to respond to negative reviews within a week, and a third cited three days or less. And while 94% of participants said a bad review persuaded them to avoid a business, 63% said at least one company they reviewed never even responded to it.
Measurement challenges and potential solutions
Many of the biggest challenges with reputation management can be traced back to difficulty with measurement. For example, nearly half (48%) of respondents in the Ad Age/DAC survey said they were unsuccessful at developing a review acquisition strategy, and among those individuals, the top reason cited was inability to measure impact (17%). A review acquisition strategy provides a framework for proactively soliciting positive ratings and reviews, rather than waiting for them to come in. Done well, it can drive volume of reviews, as well as positive sentiment, and help turn online brand reputation into a driver for the business.
Measuring this activity typically requires the marketer to collect and analyze data that lies in disparate sources, including CRM tools, web analytics, third-party platforms and reputation management software. Very few organizations have built a capability that allows them to do this effectively. In addition, the online medium itself is vast and complex, giving rise to attribution challenges such as a lack of a unique identifier that can connect any given rating or review to a particular purchase. Addressing each of these issues takes a data joining and modelling exercise, with the need to visualize this in a centralized way.
As the results of our survey make clear, marketers struggle with nearly every aspect of reputation management, from staffing and strategy, to process, technology and measurement. Additional context as to why comes from examining the roles of the respondents, which span across not only marketing but also customer support, operations and human resources. Reputation management is a truly multi-disciplinary function, and for it to work well, it requires not only strategy and technology but also true collaboration across the entire organization.
Incremental gains, long-term success
Marketers do not necessarily have to come up with a comprehensive reputation management solution all at once. Instead, companies can address the most significant gaps incrementally, committing the necessary time and resources to understand the audience, to build the strategy and the governance documentation necessary for long-term success. As companies build out their programs, it is important that they do so in a fluid way and remain open to new ideas. In fact, flexibility and agility (along with measurement) was the top reason cited for not having a reputation management strategy in DAC’s global survey.
Investments in data and technology are also critical to the success of every reputation management program. With the ever-increasing number of platforms relying on ratings and reviews, this is only adding complexity to the reputation management function. Technology specifically built to manage this function will be required to efficiently manage it at scale. Going forward, the sustainability of the practice will rely on the marketer’s ability to understand the impact of the investments made in this space, and to continuously optimize to improve the outcomes.
Taken together, any one of these steps (or some combination of them) will move the brand toward not only mitigating risk of negative online conversations that can damage its reputation, but ultimately supporting the establishment of holistic reputation management as a driver for the business. And, in the process, propel the company toward those elite names among the most respected and trusted global brands.