Why Small Businesses Can’t Afford to Overlook Reputation Marketing

A single online review has the power to shape the entire future of your business.

That might seem like a terrifying proposition or an amazing opportunity, depending on your business’s online reputation and whether you’re properly managing it with a reputation marketing strategy.

Reputation marketing is a strategy for actively shaping the narrative around your brand, transforming customer satisfaction into a powerful marketing tool that builds and promotes a positive online presence.

Because consumers increasingly rely on digital channels — search engines, social media, general web browsing, etc. — to find and choose products and services, having a positive reputation online has become vital to attracting potential customers and retaining them.

reputation marketing

Too often, however, businesses — small businesses, especially — are reactive rather than proactive with their online reputations. That means they’ll respond to positive and negative reviews, but they’re not amplifying positive brand content that creates and maintains a great reputation. It’s great that a potential customer sees your brand taking ownership and responding to a negative review, but wouldn’t it be even better if all they saw were positive reviews in the first place?

That’s the difference an effective reputation marketing strategy can make.

Reputation Management vs. Reputation Marketing

It’s also a difference that’s only starting to be realized.

For decades, businesses have taken a more reactive approach to how they’re perceived by the public. This strategy is referred to as “reputation management,” and it’s typically only called upon when a brand-diminishing crisis occurs.

Reputation marketing differs in that it’s only gained traction recently as more and more people use the internet to make decisions on purchases. As such, it’s still a relatively new concept for many businesses.

Here’s how to differentiate the two:

Reputation Management

This is primarily a defensive strategy that focuses on monitoring and mitigating negative online content.

Reputation management is about:

  • Damage control, responding to negative reviews, handling public relations crises, and ensuring that search engine results do not negatively impact a brand’s image.
  • Maintaining a neutral or positive public perception by addressing and correcting any negative or false information.

Reputation Marketing

Where reputation management is reactive, reputation marketing is a proactive approach that involves using a company’s positive reputation as a marketing tool to promote the brand.

This is a strategy that:

  • Goes beyond managing a reputation to leveraging it.
  • Includes gathering and publicizing positive brand content like reviews, customer testimonials, and media coverage to build brand credibility and attract new customers.
  • Turns a good reputation into an asset, using it in promotional materials, on social media sites, and in advertising campaigns.
  • Focuses not just on mitigating the negative but on amplifying the positive brand content that attracts new business and build brand loyalty.

Do Businesses Need Both Reputation Marketing and Reputation Management?

The two strategies need not be exclusive. You can employ the strongest reputation marketing strategy in the world, and still have need of reputation management in a time of crisis.

However, a proactive approach in reputation marketing often reduces the need for reputation management.

Crisis Buffer:

  • By building a strong, positive online presence, any negative feedback or reviews are less likely to dominate your online narrative.
  • This can mitigate the impact of any negative incidents, further protecting your brand’s image.

Heightened Awareness:

  • Proactive reputation marketing also involves actively seeking feedback and reviews.
  • Not only does this provide valuable insights into what your business is doing well and where there are opportunities for improvement, it leads to better business strategies and customer service practices — meaning you’re less likely to experience the type of crisis that reputation management can solve.

How Online Presence Shapes Business Success

But more than merely avoiding potential crises, an effective reputation marketing strategy enhances your online presence and maintains a positive reputation. And because so many people find businesses through the digital channels we mentioned in the opening, the success of your business directly depends on your online presence.

Here are five ways that a positive online presence can determine the success of a business:

  1. Visibility and Reach: A positive online presence expands a business’s visibility to better reach customers in their local area. It’s impossible to attract customers if they don’t know you exist.
  2. Customer Expectations: Customers expect businesses to have an online presence. A well-maintained website, active social media profiles, and a strong online reputation are often seen as indicators of a business’s credibility and reliability.
  3. Brand Perception: Online content — including websites, social media platforms, and reviews — heavily influences how customers perceive a brand. Positive online interactions and content are integral aspects of reputation marketing that help build a strong, favourable brand image.
  4. Informed Decision Making: Customers often research online before making purchasing decisions. Online reviews, product information, and testimonials significantly influence these decisions. A strong online presence ensures that when customers look for information, they find positive and convincing content about your business.
  5. Customer Engagement and Relationships: Online platforms offer unique opportunities for businesses to engage with their customers through interactive content, prompt customer service, and personalized communication. This engagement builds stronger customer relationships and loyalty.

How to Build an Effective Reputation Marketing Strategy in 10 Steps

Reputation Marketing Strategy

Now that we’ve established the importance of reputation marketing, let’s go over the steps to actually implementing a strategy that will deliver on the type of benefits listed above.

1. Assess Your Current Reputation

This first step is to simply examine your online presence:

  • Objectively audit your website, social media profiles, online reviews, and any press mentions.
  • Identify what customers are saying about your brand across different platforms.
  • For example, a large part of this process for local restaurant might be analyzing their Yelp reviews to understand common customer feedback themes.

2. Set Clear Objectives

Now that you’ve acquired a better understanding of your company’s reputation through things like online reviews, take a moment to define what you want to achieve with your reputation marketing:

  • Objectives can range from improving online reviews to increasing brand awareness or boosting customer engagement.
  • Make SMART objectives: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
  • For example, you might aim to increase your average review rating from 3.5 to 4.5 within a year or growing your social media following by 50%.
  • Consider setting a specific goal for enhancing customer engagement, like doubling the number of positive customer interactions online each month.

3. Scout the Competition

This step is all about seeing how your competitors are managing their online reputations so that you can identify what they’re doing well and where there are gaps:

  • Look at their social media activity and content strategy.
  • Check out their customer reviews and responses.
  • Identify areas where your business can differentiate itself and excel.
  • For example, if competitors are slow to respond to negative reviews, make it your strength to respond promptly and constructively.

4. Develop a Multi-Channel Content Strategy

Now that you’ve finished all of the foundational work of reputation marketing, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and create the content that will showcase your brand’s strengths using customer testimonials, positive reviews and success stories.

  • Create a diverse content calendar that utilizes various platforms like blogs, videos, social media, and podcasts to distribute the content.
  • Be mindful of tailoring the content for different platforms: what works on LinkedIn might not work on Instagram or TikTok.
  • For example, a tech company might create blog posts about industry trends on LinkedIn, promote their customer case studies in trade publications, and include tutorial videos for their products on landing pages.

5. Optimize Your Google Business Profile

Reputation marketing strategy or not, every small business should ensure that their Google Business Profile is up-to-date and that it accurately represents their business. In addition to providing the most important listing for your business — more than 90% of all online searches are through Google — the platform offers a range of features that help you stand out from your competitors and attract more customers.

All you have to do is:

  • Create your listing, if you haven’t already.
  • Regularly update your profile with current business information, photos, and posts.
  • Encourage happy customers to leave reviews, possibly by offering incentives like discounts on future purchases.
  • And remember: modern consumers trust online reviews, and their access point for online reviews is, more often than not, Google.

6. Monitor Your Reputation Regularly

There’s no point in putting in all this effort and not measuring the impact.

  • Use tools like Google Alerts to set up notifications for when your business is mentioned online.
  • Check major online review sites and use social media monitoring software to keep tabs on what’s being said about your brand.
  • Regular monitoring allows for prompt responses to any negative feedback or reviews.
  • For example, if a negative review appears on TripAdvisor, be prepared to address it swiftly and thoughtfully.

7. Engage Actively with Your Audience (Through Online Reviews)

Which leads us into the next step of responding to customer reviews, both positive and negative, in a professional and constructive manner.

  • Respond to all reviews, showing appreciation for positive feedback and empathy and solutions for negative feedback.
  • For example, if a customer complains about service, apologize and offer a discount for their next visit.
  • Never be defensive to negative reviews, even when you know you’re in the right.
  • While it’s a major point of emphasis for reputation marketing, dealing with positive reviews and negative reviews isn’t the only aspect to engaging with your audience.
  • You can also use social media to have conversations with customers, share behind-the-scenes content, and participate in relevant trending topics to build relationships and foster loyalty.

8. Leverage Customer Feedback

Now that your business is producing content that develops its positive reputation, and you’re taking a more active role in soliciting positive reviews from customers, it’s time to amp up your reputation marketing efforts by using all those new positive reviews:

  • Feature positive customer testimonials in your digital marketing materials, on your website and throughout social media — and make it appealing for potential customers.
  • For example, a graphic design agency could share a client’s testimonial about a successful project, and include images that correspond to what the client loved about their work.
  • It’s not all going to be positive, so be sure to use negative feedback constructively to improve your service or products, showing customers you value their input.

9. Evaluate and Adapt Your Strategy

The next-to-last step is to take further advantage of your monitoring efforts.

  • Regularly assess the effectiveness of your reputation marketing.
  • Metrics like engagement rates, review scores, and website traffic can be used to gauge the effectiveness of your strategy.
  • Be ready to adapt and make changes based on new trends, customer feedback, and evolving market conditions.
  • For example, if no one engages on Facebook to posts about happy customers, but almost every follower of your business on LinkedIn has something to say, keep posting positive testimonials on LinkedIn, but pivot those efforts on Facebook.

10. Keep Sharing Your Success

Reputation marketing efforts are meant to be proactive and ongoing. When you embark on a reputation marketing strategy, the short-term goal might be to enhance your company’s reputation, but the true purpose behind that is to grow your business and improve its bottom line.

That growth is now part of your reputation marketing. Share it.

  • Publicize achievements like awards, milestones, or positive media coverage.
  • For example, a small business winning a local award should share this news on their website and social media channels.
  • Keep using these successes in your marketing materials to build a narrative of excellence and trustworthiness.

Remember, effective reputation marketing efforts are not static; they evolve with your business and the market. It requires ongoing effort, adaptation, and a commitment to maintaining a positive relationship with your customer base.

5 Reputation Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

5 Reputation Marketing Mistakes

Because reputation marketing is a relatively new strategy for many businesses, it’s not uncommon to see companies making mistakes as part of their process. These mistakes are definitely learning opportunities, but let’s identify some of the common ones so you can learn more from wins than losses with your own reputation marketing efforts.

1. Ignoring Negative Feedback

The Mistake: It’s common for companies to neglect negative reviews or comments, simply because hearing what you did wrong is rarely a fun exercise.

Avoid It Because: Ignoring negative feedback can damage your credibility. Customers value transparency and responsiveness.

2. Being Inauthentic

The Mistake: Paying for fake reviews to improve ratings or using generic responses to reviews and feedback.

Avoid It Because: Potential customers are savvy. They can easily recognize canned responses and fake reviews, which can damage your company’s reputation by making your business seem disingenuous and unethical.

3. Over-Promotion

The Mistake: Using every social media post to aggressively push products without providing value or engaging content.

Avoid It Because: Consumers trust online reviews, but over-promotion of positive customer feedback can annoy or alienate your audience, leading to a disconnection.

4. Lack of Strategy Diversity

The Mistake: Only focusing on Facebook for customer engagement while neglecting other platforms like Instagram or LinkedIn limits your reach.

Avoid It Because: Different platforms reach different audiences, and a diverse strategy ensures broader impact.

5. Not Personalizing Customer Interactions

The Mistake: Sending the same, generic email response to every customer inquiry instead of tailoring the message to address specific customer needs or situations.

Avoid It Because: Personalization enhances your company’s reputation, the overall customer experience and, as a result, customer loyalty.

The Benefits of Effective Reputation Marketing

While we were discussing the importance of securing a positive brand presence online, some of the benefits of reputation marketing came to light. However, there are further advantages to adopting an effective reputation marketing strategy and steering clear of the common mistakes we identify above.

Here are some of the biggest benefits reputation marketing provides:

Enhanced Brand Image:

By consistently showcasing customer success stories and positive feedback, you cultivate a strong and appealing brand image that resonates with trust and quality.

  • This positive perception of your company’s reputation does double duty in attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.

Increased Trust and Credibility:

A business responding thoughtfully to both positive and negative reviews demonstrates transparency and commitment to customer satisfaction, which helps build trust with their audience.

  • Trust is a critical factor in consumer decision-making, especially in online environments where personal interactions are limited.

Improved Search Engine Optimization:

Regularly updated content and positive customer reviews are really a search engine optimization strategy.

  • Both can boost a local business’s ranking in Google’s local search results, leading to increased organic traffic.
  • Higher rankings increase visibility, making it easier for potential customers to find your business.

Customer Insights and Business Improvement Beyond Online Reputation

Analyzing customer feedback and reviews on a new product launch can provide actionable insights for product enhancements or new features.

  • This can inform business strategies and help in refining products or services.

Increased Sales and a Competitive Advantage:

In a crowded market, a business with consistently high ratings and positive reviews on review sites is always going to gather more business through search than competitors with lower ratings.

  • Customers are more likely to purchase from a business with positive reviews and a good reputation.

Better Customer Relationships:

Actively engaging with customers through social media, addressing concerns, and celebrating customer experiences can cultivate a loyal customer base.

  • This is an especially important benefit for retailers.
  • Fostering a sense of community and loyalty like this leads to repeat business and customer referrals.

Effective reputation marketing goes beyond managing how your business is perceived; it’s about actively leveraging that perception to achieve tangible business outcomes like increased trust and long-term customer relationships, which combine to dramatically increase sales.

Benefits Reputation Marketing

Contact an Expert to Start Improving Your Online Reputation

Because reputation marketing is a newer strategy, brought to prominence by consumer behaviour shifting online, there’s still a lot of undiscovered country in this field.

That’s why an experienced digital marketer can significantly expedite the process for small businesses to begin reaping the rewards of their reputation marketing efforts.

Professional guidance can put small businesses on a fast track to success through:

  • Truly objective reputation audits.
  • Tailored strategies.
  • Avoiding both the pitfalls we identified and the ones we didn’t.
  • Leveraging industry best practices.
  • Data-driven insights.
  • Staff training and empowerment.
  • Optimizing your time and resources.

Partner With Harvard Excelerate Today

This is precisely what Harvard Excelerate is able to provide through our local marketing experts. And with our free Digital Marketing Health Check, you can receive the first step in your reputation marketing strategy — a full, objective audit of your current online reputation — at absolutely no cost.

You really can’t optimize your time and resources better than that.

In addition to your free Digital Marketing Health Check, which also includes actionable advice that’s customized to your business based on our findings, you can also get a free quote for reputation marketing services that are proven to:

  • Boost your brand’s online presence.
  • Elevate your online reputation.
  • Attract more customers.
  • Increase your return on investment.

If you’re ready to implement the type of effective reputation marketing strategy that not only enhances your brand’s online presence, but engages with your current and future customers in a way that cultivates a greater sense of loyalty, it’s time to partner with Harvard Excelerate.

Contact us today and start building the type of online reputation that makes a difference to your bottom line. Get your free quote now.

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