“Reputation will ultimately influence where consumers choose to buy products, where investors decide to put their money, and where talented employees want to work.” Monica Wang, Forbes
Historically, reputation has (mostly) only been a priority for companies when they reach maturity. But brand trust has been eroded over recent years - Edelman reported in its 2019 trust barometer that “only 49% believe tech is putting the welfare of its customers ahead of profits”, and start-ups are coming round to the idea that reputation needs to come higher up the list, sooner. Bad press can also haunt a company as it scales, having a direct impact on hiring, investor interest and of course sales - cult cycling brand SoulCycle recently suffered a hit to customer numbers after the Trump fundraiser debacle.
Social media has given consumers a voice in real time and the ability to have a direct impact on a brand’s reputation. This matched with heightened expectations of brand values particularly from younger consumers means that proactive reputation management has never been more important for a start-up. This is not just the case for consumer companies but also B2B and healthcare companies, especially those selling to large established, often public organisations which want to buy products and services from companies that match their own high standards when it comes to ethics and data management.
Aside from avoiding the pitfalls, there is also a long list of good reasons for start-ups to think about reputation early into their journey. By shaping their own narrative, a company has a better chance of standing out from its competitors, building brand loyalty with customers, and attracting higher calibre talent and investors.
For very early stage companies, hiring agencies on a retainer or in-house communications teams is not always possible. Costs, time and prioritisation will always be a factor, however there are a few things that can be done to begin. Here are some ideas:
Start by defining your vision, mission, purpose and values - What is the ambition of the business, what problem does it want to solve and what can it positively contribute to the world at large?
Know your weaknesses and fix them - Management often know what could impact them negatively ahead of time. Proactively deal with issues and don’t let them spiral by not facing them head on
Put plans in place - Plan ahead for the worst-case scenario. Collaborate with agencies on an ad-hoc basis (to save costs), or your investors - if you don’t feel like you have the adequate capabilities already sitting within the business
Listen out - Understand what the current perception of your brand is by listening to what people are saying about it internally and externally and decide whether this is what you intended. This can also act as an early warning system for issues
Connect with your customers and clients - Share good news when you have it (however big or small), whether that’s at customer events, through direct marketing, or by building relationships with target media and achieving positive press coverage. These activities often have the largest costs attached but a steady drumbeat of good news will do wonders for building reputation and momentum as you grow
Eight Roads is passionate about helping the companies it invests in to scale and our value-add team offer advice on marketing, brand, reputation, technology, talent, sales and AI. Let us know what you thought of this topic and if there are others it would be useful to cover.