Imagine a world where a customer can say anything they want about any experience they had with your brand and it can go viral and potentially ruin your business.  That sounds quite scary doesn’t it?  Truth is that is the world we are living in today.  In today’s virtual world of digital devices, social media, and online reviews, we are currently living in an era dominated by transparency. This demand for transparency goes both ways in the unwritten customer contract.  Brands expect customers to share data so they can make better business decisions and customers expect brands to pull back the veil of secrecy of habits and thinking patterns.  This phenomenon has changed forever the rules of branding and marketing. In the world today, reviews on Amazon and Yelp, the rise of YouTube celebrities, and a legion of vocal bloggers can and do affect brand images and acceptability, at times beyond the best of strategic business and brand strategy plans. The Internet and mobile devices have shrunk the world, educated the marketplace, and expanded our choices. The consumer pool is bigger by population count, but also faster, more demanding, and extremely impatient.

So as an effective entrepreneur, what do you need to focus on with this new landscape in branding?

For starters, branding is now interactive.  Social media pages, YouTube videos, blog sites, and online review sites (such as Yelp) have become vital components of consumer searches for a brand, and they determine not only its relevance, but also its value to people’s personal lives. In other words, most purchasing decisions concerning a brand are mostly predetermined by individual consumers and their searches.  Business owners must not only fully realize today’s shifting habits, but also rapidly adjust and address them. This includes developing positive, proactive strategies for reaching out and interacting with customers, the media, and online influencers. Business owners that incorporate how a brand interacts among these powerful players, as well as handles negativity or customer-service issues, will be creating the winning brands of our lifetimes.

Brand Management is much more complex than it used to be before social media. Yes, at the core, building and managing a successful brand is still as easy as rendering superlative service or providing an exceptional product consistently. On the other hand, this consistency is put to the test every day with the advent of heightened transparency from interactions with customers.  A brand must have a relationship with every interaction and touch point, and these points are critical.  So, how do you deliver more than the most fundamental of customer expectancy, yet within a brand’s service and touch point capabilities? It must be something that is woven into all strategic plans of the brand and ingrained in the company culture that all employees have the autonomy to correct a potential negative customer interaction.

Customer Service is pretty much equal to Brand Identity.  The way the brand strategically handles customer interaction and transparency touch points are its brand identity.  Understanding the dynamics of interactions and transparency touch points can and will create loyal customers. If a brand can understand this fact, they will win in the market.  How companies are executing on this primarily is through social media usage as a tool to address customer complaints before they become bad online reviews.  Alternatively, smart brands are thinking more critically about preventing the alienation of customers from fleeing and spending their money with other brands.  They are working these potential interactions into everything from production meetings to operational plans that a customer will never likely be aware of to proactively manage this critical area.

But what does this all really mean?

By proactively preventing bad experiences or repairing the damage after an incident has occurred, brands lock in consumer loyalty with carefully cultivated transparency. Transparency is the new competitive advantage.