Last month, Salesman Podcast host Will Barron shared a common story – a critic attacked him on LinkedIn. Thankfully, he had “trust protection” from years of hosting a quality podcast and being on others’ programs, so former show guests who knew and respected Will jumped in to defend “and essentially just…. made [the critic] look like a complete fool.” The person deleted the post.
Will’s example, provided to our founder when he was a guest on the Salesman Podcast, is a great example of the value of strong branding. The best brands build trust before people need you, and they are a bastion for when you are attacked. We don’t always recommend responding to critics, but if you need to, it’s best to do so from a position of strength.
Here’s how to build “trust protection” for your company even if you don’t have the world’s most popular B2B sales podcast.
Invest early and significantly
Great brands aren’t built by accident. They require investments in customer-facing marketing and branding, building a great team, and developing processes to serve customers.
Consider GEICO. Most of us know the gecko and “save 15% in 15 minutes.” But if all they had is a gecko, their brand would be lipstick on a reptile. Instead they have the whole package:
- In 2017, half of Americans had seen a GEICO ad – and the company spent $1.6 billion to make that happen.
- GEICO also leads the industry in key consumer metrics like purchasing satisfaction, customer technology such as apps, and customer service.
GEICO clearly invests in technology, customer service, and operations in addition to their advertising budget. They are also far cheaper than their other top-tier competitors. What this means on a practical level is that GEICO’s money doesn’t just go to creating a CGI reptile. The company also invests in:
- Hiring and training the right staff
- Technology and other infrastructures
- Knowing its target markets and attracting those markets
GEICO’s success is just one example of a company that knows investing early and often in all parts of a brand – from how customer service staff answer the phones to how the website runs to how claims are handled – is key to building the trust necessary to succeed before a crisis arrives.
Build relationships that matter
It’s always better to have others defending your brand. That doesn’t happen unless you’ve built a great reputation with the right people. To go back to the story at the top of this piece, Will built trust protection through relationships that matter. In the world of haters having instant access to our brands, he was falsely accused of sexism for saying that the sales industry is male-dominated. And then the branding superheroes arrived – “a bunch of the female sales leaders who had been on the show” defended Will and ended the “controversy.”
Boeing similarly was able to dodge controversy when it sought a federal bailout in Spring 2020. Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley condemned the effort and left Boeing’s Board of Directors over it. Despite Haley’s political prominence and the widespread reporting on conservative media about her departure, Boeing secured a $25 billion bond from the Federal Reserve. Haley’s criticisms and the conservative media echo chamber simply didn’t matter because Boeing had established strong relationships with its target markets.
Boeing’s success came from its brand trust with clients — in its case, government agencies and officials, financial leaders, and government contractors. Clients are the people who keep your doors open, staff paid, and bank accounts full. They are the people who, when the whole world seems against you, will have your back if you treat them well.
Will’s success came from brand reputation with professional colleagues and influencers. He was fortunate that the two were the same – most companies have to build separate relationships with colleagues (bankers, lawyers, accountants, industry competitors, sub-contractors, etc.) and influencers (industry experts, media gatekeepers at relevant outlets, social media influencers, etc.) These strong relationships meant he didn’t have to respond to his critic – his network did it for him.
Trust protection matters most in crises
Businesspeople see the brand value of strong relationships every day. Let’s put it in the context of a professional malpractice lawsuit against your company, and a news outlet is reporting on the lawsuit’s filing.
In the first scenario, the reporter doesn’t know you. He or she is framing the lawsuit from the other person’s perspective, giving it credibility where none exists – “angry customer sues business.” Worse, the reporter doesn’t know your company well enough to properly explain a nuance that’s key to your defense. Worst, that reporter’s work goes online, being spread through social media, other relevant media outlets, and on your opponent’s digital collateral.
In the second scenario, you’ve established working relationship with the reporter by pro-actively giving expert commentary and by being a known presence in the industry through op-eds, podcast appearances, and radio segments. This time, the reporter knows you and frames the article from your point of view – “successful business responds to ‘frivolous’ lawsuit.” And instead of watching with horror as your nuance is botched by an ignorant journalist, you see with pride that the news outlet is acting as part of your defense team. Now, when that goes online, you can proudly spread the article through your network, pointing not to your own words, but those of the respected, third-party reporter.
In the first scenario, you’re in trouble. The person suing you has the initial upper hand, and you have to catch up. Customers may begin to question spending money with you, and vendors and partners may question whether you are good for their brands. In the second scenario, you’ve communicated with all target markets ahead of time, putting yourself in a great position to gain brand recognition and turn a potential negative into a strong positive.
Trust protection is expensive until you need it
Trust protection is as necessary as business insurance, an accountant, and an attorney. Just like those investments, the costs seem expensive until you need them…and then they are cheap compared to what would happen if you didn’t have these business basics in place. In one consumer survey released this past summer, 51 percent of respondents said bad press would reduce their trust in a brand. And whether you’re Will Barron, Boeing, or GIECO – investing early and often in trust protection is far less expensive for your company than playing catch-up after a crisis hits. It takes years to build a great brand, and in today’s world it can take just hours or days to have it torn down.