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December 6, 2007

Brand Management

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Last day, first session. I’m going to make this intro short because we’re all anxious to get to the content. Here’s the lineup. Speaking are Jessica L Bowman, Yahoo! Inc., Lauren Vaccarello, Forex Capital Markets LLC, Matt Tuens, CKMG Inc. Joe Laratro moderates.

Lauren Vaccarello is up first to discuss building, maintaining and defending your brand.

What is branding? It’s what your company is associated with, it’s your search results and who are you.

What’s your story and why should I as a consumer care? People do I buy Jif because choosy moms choose Jif and that works for me.

Competitive research is one of the most important thing to do. You have to know who you’re up against how they’re telling their story.

Build your keyword list, find out who are your competitor, build a list of the 5-10 biggest competitors and learn what their stories are, discover the holes in their brand and use those to make yours better. SEObook as a good competitive research tool. Look at the social media stories, find out what stories are ranking well and selling. At the end of the day, no one is going to link to you if you’re not compelling.

Once research is done, sit down and build your content. Tell your story.

Monitor your brand, learn the popular forms, blogs. Find out where your audience lives. No one can read every RSS feed, newsletter etc. So use Google Alerts to aggregate it for you. Follow not just your own brand but key terms, players and your competitors.

Defending your brand:

Respond to negative publicity in a timely way. Buy YourCompanySucks.com. Fight back. It’s easier to get someone from 13 to 3 than it is to come from nowhere so empower your affiliates and partners. Create buzz and get things linked together. Push the hate sites down.

Never feed the forum trolls. If there is a valid, negative complaint on a forum, then have someone –just one person– empowered to respond. Make sure you’re not talking to them like you’re the CEO and they’re nothing. Talk to them as equals, listen to them and respond.

Empower your loyalists. In a crisis, don’t pretend they don’t know what’s going on. Talk to them and let them do your defense as well. Back them up. They’ll do your work for you in a lot of instances.

She notes at the end, if you’re doing a presentation on brand management you should use branded slides. (She didn’t.)

Matt Tuens is up next to explain this equation: Brand Management = Content Management

The importance of content has been discussed far and wide but very few people take full advantage of its power. The people who have done it well are awesome: Edmunds.com, About.com, Wikipedia.com.

Content:

  • Extends brand coverage
  • Drives your customers
  • Delivers your messages

Brand management is communicating and maintaining the brand messages, strategic development of the brand to maximize its market value.

Content is crucial to brand management

Negative postings are HUGE opportunities, not just to defend your brand but to promote and extend your brand to audiences and demographics that you haven’t reached before. You can put a face to your company that gives them that certain je ne said quoi about a brand that makes people like you. People like Apple because of the personal brand.

Increased perceived value leads to increased revenue and industry traction customer loyalty, and tremendous increased to the market value overall.

A significant and complete content strategy is crucial. Brand management is necessary in all aspects of the brand. All the words should be carefully chosen to portray your brand. Information is the

The brands that have the most information about an industry are usually the ones generating the most traffic. The good news is that you don’t have to start from scratch. You can build on a long-term brand and take it to new audiences.

Content has four pronged value:

  • Generate high quality organic traffic
  • Establish trust with your visitor
  • Maximize the monetization of each page
  • Simultaneously each page of content is another opportunity to spread and reinforce your brand message and value.

Content is responsible for multiple levels of brand awareness. Search engines rank by information, bloggers and forums link to quality content, if you’re writing articles then each article can rank for multiple terms and every one of those is an opportunity for you to extend and shape your brand.

Build your site to be informative and you’ll also start to build a relationship with people, they’ll trust your information and learn to rely on you as a resource. When you’re improving all your landing pages with information, you’re improving your Quality Score and conversions. That’s instant ROI. The nice thing about content is that you only have to write it once but if it’s good quality, it’ll be evergreen and pay off for years.

He talks really fast.

Just how much content should you strive for? Really the way you want to be thinking is how can I make my site as usable as possible for people. How can I answer every single question they have? That’s the approach that successful brands today are taking. Look at the long term value of that. Consider iVillage, as much as they’re worth now, think about how much more they’ll be worth in five years with all of that content.

If you were looking to buy something, wouldn’t it be great if you stumbled across one site that had answers to every single question you had about that product? People don’t have time to look at 25 sites, they just want one. That’s what you want your site to be–why aren’t you that company in your vertical.

The key is to diversify your content. You’re going to want all sorts of content, some shorter facts articles for the people who are just looking for that, longer ones for people who need more depth, interviews with other experts so they know you’re not in a bubble, authoritative articles from the CEO. With blogs, people feel like they’re on the inside, like they’re getting tips that other people aren’t getting. He highly suggests getting into video.

Maintaining your brand–now that you’re the best, you should go out and do the same on other sites. Don’t just live on your site, go out, be on Facebook, on MySpace. Set up other sites and blogs from your employees outside of the corporate blog. Update often and be out there, in your face.

This leads in well to protecting your brand. If you go in and respond intelligently and caringly to a complaint then you can turn a negative into a positive. If I see someone posted something negative and the company actually goes out and respond to try to make things better, I have more respect for that brand and I’m even grateful because I feel like they’re educating me.

And…he’s done. Wow, there was a lot of information there to dig through.

Tony Wright is next. He’s going to be getting all Sun Tzu on us with brand management and the Art of War. Awesome.

He says that it’s a cliché but it works. It doesn’t have the horrors of war but brand management does have its own horrors. As in war, winning goes to the prepared and many times, the goal is minimal damage–you don’t want to blow everything up.

Know the battlefield: You have to know your brand. There are a number of ways to do that Google, Yahoo, SERPs, Social Media, even hiring reputation management services but you have to do it. If you’re missing intelligence on what’s going on, you’re going to be hit by crisis.

Avoid the War: Obviously, the best way to get out of rep problems is by not getting into them in first. You want to keep your customers happy. Don’t screw your ex-employees. Don’t screw partners. Practice good business. Practice good customer service. And admit your wrongs when you’re wrong. But through the proper channels. If it’s one customer, deal with them individually. If it’s a bigger problem, speak more broadly. [And don't speak to other people before you talk to your customers. They're going to be irritated if the press gets a statement before they do. --Susan]

Train your soldiers: Your employees should know how to deal with a crisis. Keep them in the know. If you don’t tell them when there is a problem, they could get blindsided and end up saying something they shouldn’t. Provide drills, discuss how your companies. Prepare for EVERY situation but also be prepared that you won’t be prepared. He worked for American Airlines during 9/11. No one expected it but they had

Keep your Mercenaries Happy: Your affiliates are your mercenaries. Transparency is still key. You have to treat them with respect and equality. The guy who brings in the most should get the same respect as the least. Have policies for dealing with rogue affiliates so that you don’t get them turning on you in the crisis. Get the button pusher (the one who can create meltdown–usually the lawyer) involved before something happens. If they come in after, there’s going to be huge damages. Keep them informed but NOT in charge. Lawyers might save you legally but they’re going to do huge brand damage. Cease and desists will end up on blogs. Listen to their advice but don’t let them make the decisions. You want to use them as a last resort.

Know your friends and enemies: Monitor your ex-employees, especially the disgruntled ones.

He’s got a 3 hour seminar on x-train.com on brand management

Jessica Bowman is up next as the in-house SEO for Yahoo.

She asks how many people are engaging in brand management already–a few hands go up and she’s pleased by the number. She’s less happy by the number who are now considering doing it now after this session–it’s not a lot.

Brand management for search engines should maximize traffic and revenue for brand search terms while simultaneously hedging against negative content and competitors who are trying to rank for your brand.

Leverage all your properties to rank for your brand. Your main site is going to have two listings maximum in the search engine, don’t leave the other 8 on the page to chance. Dominate the SERPs as much as possible. Use multiple properties to reach different kinds of audiences.

Coordinate your SEO/SEM campaigns. Make sure all your other marketing efforts are on the same page as well. One message, multiple forms.

Recognize threats from competitors, unfavorable reactions and develop proactive and reactive strategies. Make sure that you stay on top of the tactics that people are using for unfavorable reactions. Hate sites are popular, forums, even recordings from customers that get posted on the Web.

Anything negative out there is a risk. Don’t think that just because it’s not ranking yet doesn’t mean that it won’t. Someone on page three might end up on page one. Any Web savvy customer can rank for your brand and be a problem for you. Don’t just think that it’s only your brand that’s at risk. Your employees are going to affect your brand too. A photo of an employee with a caption describing her as rude could become a universal view of your company.

“You might be the only person in your company who can fully comprehend the rish that your company faces.” Make sure that you bring it up when you see it. Identify threats, get legal involved (but not letting them make the first move), they will champion you.

Takeaways: Look at Brand Management in the SERPs holistically. It can make you money and it hedges against risk. Respond to issues but don’t get sucked into online debates. Be proactive. Squat on your brand before unofficial squatters do–not just domains but social media sites too so that you don’t have to be reactive in that area.

Q&A

For Lauren: what companies do you use for helping your research?

Lauren: SEObook’s competitive research tool and Technorati.

What other sites do you get involved in to protect your brand?

Tony: Pligg, Mix, Flickr, YouTube, a ton of places out there show up in the SERPs. Get involved.

How would you go about getting something off page one?

Jessica: You want favorable things to rank above it. Link to things that support you: news articles, blogs, etc.

Tony: Like matt said, create new content. Contact the people and see if you can’t help and fix it. If it’s four years old, they might not care anymore. Just talk to them. Have everyone in your company create a Linked In profile; they rank well for company names.

Matt: Use third party sites, create new profiles. Also contact other people who might have something good to day.

Any horror stories?

Jessica: I know of one. A famous blogger had a bad experience, he’d paid for premium service and when he needed it, it wasn’t there for him. The company didn’t do anything about it and they didn’t respond. Then other bloggers picked it up and it became a huge thing.

Tony: I had a former client; they were a start up, got a bunch of press. They had a disgruntled ex-employee post horrible things on a blog and they mandated that everyone in the company respond with something positive. At the same time–every comment was one minute apart. That company isn’t in business anymore. They went overboard on a good idea.

Matt: If you have a problem and successfully resolve it, put it on your site. Get the word out that you made a mistake and fixed it. People love when you admit that you’re human and you make mistakes because we all make mistakes. Don’t just ignore it.

How do you combat bad reviews on things like TripAdvisor?

Tony: Try providing incentives to loyalists. If someone has a great stay, offer them 10 percent off on their next stay if they’ll post a review. You can’t beat TripAdvisor, they rank for everything. Remember that people expect to see a couple bad reviews. It’s when you’re in great volume.

Jessica: If the company won’t provide the incentives, show up with your laptop and your Verizon card and ask people to review their stay right there.

[An audience member warns against a bunch of reviews coming from the same IP address, someone else suggests posting them through AOL instead. Hee.]





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