By Judith O’Leary, MD at Represent

WHEN it comes to maintaining business performance, brand reputation management is key. Your brand, and not your product or service, is what your customers and stakeholders are buying into. Maintaining a positive brand reputation instils customer confidence and loyalty – two things that business performance is reliant upon.

There are many steps that companies can take to enhance their brand reputation – from establishing strong communications online to building a positive presence within stakeholder groups and the wider community.

So often, new clients will come to us during a time of crisis, and we often find that they have not taken the necessary steps to establish a positive brand reputation prior to finding themselves up that creek which shall not be named. Although it’s certainly possible to mitigate business disasters at point of problem, there are steps that businesses can take ahead of time to make this period less taxing.

That leads us to planning for a crisis. When’s the best time to start handling a crisis? Before it’s even happened. Don your shiniest tin foil hat, because it’s time to become a “catastrophsier” – a seeker-out of all possible worst-case scenarios. It’s helpful to consider what the worst thing to possibly happen to your business could be – a scandalous tweet posted by a rogue employee? A transportation failure? Your whole online infrastructure crumbling?

Once the catastrophising is complete, it’s time to plan the steps you would take to handle this. Develop a plan for how you will communicate events – what will you say to the public? Who is responsible for talking to media? What should they say, and what should they not?

By creating a plan ahead of a time of crisis, things will be a lot easier to handle should doomsday occur, and your business is at less risk of taking a hit.

When the worst does happen, the smartest thing to do is to consider the clarity of your communications. Dishonesty is a total turn-off and can be sniffed out a mile off from consumers and stakeholders alike. Be transparent – if you’re not, you’ll likely see negative business results. However, overcomplicating your message – or worse, making it inconsistent – will lead to growing frustration and further hostility – a lethal cocktail for your brand. Instead, stick to a clear, easily digestible message and communicate it clearly across all platforms.

During your time of crisis, you will naturally be vulnerable to criticism. Of course, not all criticism has to be negative – provided you respond to it in the right way. Consider your moment of crisis as a cleansing moment and seek out consistencies in complaints about your company or how it operates.

Do, however, be wary of serial complainers. There are those who like to pile onto the heap and criticise your company, just because others are doing it. Don’t action change just because a loud minority tells you to – instead, try to truly get to grips with the nature of the complaints from truly concerned customers, and then show them what you are doing to address them. This is a good way to reignite good will and loyalty within your customers – and you may even see that you have sparked the interest of new ones as a result.

Stay ahead of the crisis by preparing for the worst and hoping for the best – by being anticipative and not just reactive about your brand’s reputation, your business will be in a much better position to withstand catastrophe.