07 May 2021
Author: Daniel Lally
For a restaurant or home services company, name recognition and trust are core assets—and any lack of that positive awareness can be a big hurdle to your marketing success. Your investment in traditional and digital advertising and social media engagement are just table stakes. But there’s another way to help people become familiar with your brand and garner trust and good will: community engagement that reaches your neighbors and customers where they live. And before you ask: It’s not cynical to engage in charitable giving or volunteerism with the goal of improving your marketing. It’s good business, and it’s good for your neighbors. When you dedicate your business and your brand to a cause—whether by sponsoring a community event, supporting the volunteer efforts of your employees, providing in-kind donations of food or professional services, or any other goodwill efforts—you actually are making your community a better place to live and work. The only real difference between community engagement for marketing and pure altruism is that, as a business, it’s not unseemly to take credit. Meanwhile, the positive reputation you already have among customers and neighbors in the community serves to multiply your business’s contribution and lend credibility to the cause, multiplying the effect. In addition to helping make the community a better place to live and work, you’re introducing potential customers to your brand in the best way possible: by making a strongly positive association with something they care about, in their community, and in an authentic and long-lasting way. Your company’s name will be connected to more than just the event or the issue it addresses, too. Community engagement for marketing allows you to make a deeper emotional connection, associating your brand with how people feel when they get involved in their own community. And that feeling is amplified every time your charitable partner tweets or posts or sends out an email blast. A few tips on choosing a charity: Steer clear of anything controversial or divisive. Generalities are your friends here. For example, there may be a dispute in the community about whether a disc golf course or a bocci court is a more pressing local need, but it’s likely that most agree that parks and green spaces are a good thing in general. Seek relationships with organizations that complement your brand message. For example, a restaurant specializing in fresh or healthy menu items may find a natural fit with a wellness cause or event. A home services company that caters to families might choose to work with a local children’s hospital. The point is, you still can invest in a cause that’s close to your heart—and feel great about the trust and name recognition you’re banking for your business. Another advantage: here often are operational benefits as well. Don’t underestimate the morale boost your own team will feel as a result of being part of something bigger than themselves.
08 March 2021
Author: Daniel Lally
Does your company have a crisis communication plan? Most consumer services companies, especially franchise businesses, have at least some sort of business continuation or disaster recovery plan. These are usually very good at cataloging resources to keep your company operating, but what happens when the crisis is not with your operation, but with the brand? At some point, every organization will face an angry, frustrated or just disappointed audience. Knowing how to take responsibility and reassure customers and the community in the middle of a crisis is not the sort of thing you want to make up on the fly. And no matter how well your home-improvement company or fast-casual restaurant treats customers, businesses are run by humans and sooner or later, somebody will do something wrong. How to Respond Obviously, we can’t run around wildly like a bunch of cartoon characters offering a heartfelt apology for every unfortunate circumstance. Operators in food service, home improvement and other consumer-facing businesses know there’s always a squeaky wheel. But when our own action or inaction clearly led to an unpleasant outcome, an effective apology can help you (as the neighbor, the spouse, the anthropomorphized brand, etc.) regain trust. Customers in general are open to forgiving a brand that takes responsibility and expresses regret for its own actions or failures—and it certainly beats blaming somebody else on this score. However, it’s only effective when done properly. These are polite norms that we all kinda, sorta know intuitively, but behavioral scientists Steven Martin and Joseph Marks codified them for us in their book Messengers. They explain that an effective apology: Must be delivered quickly; Must be expressed sincerely; and Must demonstrate a commitment to change. Most of the public apologies we encounter these days fall short on at least one of these criteria. So, where do these less timely, insincere or noncommittal apologies go wrong? Often, it’s a matter of completeness. For example, the apologies lack any tangible or expressed commitment to change or to prevent the offense from happening again. More often, the person apologizing allows his or her personal pride to get between the expression and the whole point of the exercise. They know they need to apologize, but they don’t want to actually take any blame for anything personally. The result is usually some sort of excuse or qualified apology, which is to say, not an apology at all. I am sorry if my words were misunderstood. I apologize to anyone who may have been offended. I didn’t know you were going in there when I left my shoes in the middle of the room. That sort of thing. Knowing when and how to offer an apology can be the difference between regaining the trust of your customers and the public, or turning disappointment into rage.