What do you know about your brand perception? I know, I know. It’s a bit of a personal question and kind of scary, right? But I’m asking because the more you know about what people think of your small business–or what they perceive to know about it–the better you can serve your ideal clients and customers (and boost your bottom line!).
Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
What is Brand Perception?
Brand perception is everything that makes up a customer’s opinion of your small business, whether it’s justified or not. This includes buying a product or service, reading reviews online, scrolling through social media, talking to coworkers, asking for recommendations from friends, and more.
Even the most non-judgmental person builds a brand perception in their mind when they interact and engage with a company.
Qualtrics, a leading experience management company, puts it simply, “Brand perception is what customers believe a product or service represents, not what the company owning the brand says it does.”
Let’s break that down with a real-life example.
Carhartt is an iconic blue-collar brand that started making durable canvas overalls and outwear for railway workers in Detroit, Michigan. The workwear stood up to tough working conditions and workers known to be tough on their clothing. As a result, hunters, farmers, oil riggers and a slew of other rough-and-ready blue-collar careers soon looked to the brand for reliable, made-in-America clothing that would last more than a season.
Then in 1992, House of Pain wore Carhartt canvas jackets in its Jump Around music video, opening the brand up to a whole new perception of urban streetwear. Since then, the brand has exploded in popularity for all kinds of customers. However, the brand perception changes depending on where you are.
If you’re in rural North Carolina, you might see someone in Carhartt coveralls and wonder if they saw anything while they were out hunting. In Texas, you might spot a ranchhand with a Carhartt jacket on during brief cold spells. In New York City, you might spot a Carhartt beanie on the trendiest person at the crosswalk.
See what Qualtrics means by brand perception being what consumers believe a product represents? In a way, brand perception is subject to what consumers project onto your business and what they need you to be.
But, just like brand awareness, there are a few things you can do to influence brand perception. Before we run through some practical tips though, let’s talk about how to measure what the public thinks you (and how to preserve your confidence while you do it!).
How to Measure Brand Perception
In the age of the Internet, there are many, many ways to measure and monitor your brand perception online and in-store. Some are free but require other resources like time to gather and assess data. Some are expensive but give you invaluable insight to your actual customer base instead of the ideal one you message everything for.
Here are a few of our favorite ways to measure brand perception:
1. Use Google Alerts
Google makes it easy to keep an eye and ear out for chatter about your brand with its free Google Alerts tool. Simply plug in the name, phrase or keyword you want to keep tabs on, and Google will send you an email alert every time it pops up online
2. Engage in social listening
While Google Alerts scours the web for your key phrases, you can engage in social listening on Facebook, Instagram and the like to see what people are saying about your brand. You can do this manually by checking your mentions, direct messages and comments and by searching relevant hashtags. I’ll award you bonus points if you engage in conversation with customers who talk you up (or complain) on social.
Alternatively, you can employ a social media management tool to do it for you. Sprout Social and Hootsuite are two of the top contenders for social listening for digital marketers these days
3. Send out a survey
A third way to measure brand perception is to ask for customer feedback directly. This could be as simple as a Google Form with short survey questions you send to your list via email or after a transaction. Or you could hire a market research team that performs in-depth analysis on competitors, focus groups and historical information to learn more.
Improve and Refine Your Brand Perception
Improving or refining your brand perception can feel a lot like trying to sit at the popular table in the school cafeteria. But the effort you put into it is worth it. Here are five easy ways you can influence how people perceive your brand.
A1. Double-check your ideal customer avatar, voice and tone
Sometimes small business owners can blend their own personalities into their brand voice and tone causing confusion or a sense of closeness that isn’t always appreciated by consumers. Check in from time to time to make sure you’re not posting personal pictures on your business social media accounts or using language or phrases that might be misconstrued.
2. Respond to customers even if it’s awkward
Once you add social listening into your social media strategy, create a plan for responding to different kinds of comments or complaints. If someone adores your brand and is what I call a red-hot-center person, decide how you will acknowledge their brand loyalty publicly. If someone has an issue or complaint, find a way to defuse the comment so others see that you care about the customer experience and making things right.
3. Ask for productive customer feedback
We’ve covered surveys, but there are other ways to collect customer feedback without a labor intensive initiative. If you own a brick-and-mortar store, employees can start asking a feedback question at check out. For examples, a simple “Did you find what you were looking for?” can open up a productive feedback loop that will help you as you make decisions to rearrange your store.
4. Prove you know your stuff through user-generated content
Social proof is a proven psychology-driven marketing technique, and it can bolster your brand’s perception for a relatively low cost. Look for ways to leverage your raving fans’ love for you and your products as social proof to people who aren’t quite sold on you. This could be adding user-generated content to your social media brand strategy, or you could use testimonials and reviews on your website and marketing materials.
5. Try to break your current systems
A final way to improve your brand perception is to try and break the things you built (especially your customer value journey!). It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes we are so close to the things we create that we can’t see when something goes wrong with them. It could be the checkout button on your website doesn’t take a user directly to their cart. Or the shipping notification email is missing some information. Take time at least once a quarter to try to break something in your business, so you can make it better in the long run.
Are you tired of talking all things brand perception? I didn’t think so! It’s kind of fun, isn’t it?! And it totally gives me those high school yearbook vibes. If you have a great idea about ways to improve brand perception (or maybe even monitor it effectively), join our free Small Business Marketing Challenge Facebook group and let us know! Our group is a fun and resourceful group of business owners who want to learn and grow their small businesses alongside other entrepreneurs.