The Dark Side of Branding and Name Recognition


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Once upon a time, we were told “Call me anything you want; just spell my name right.” Or “there is no such thing as bad publicity.”

Arrant nonsense, of course, although it has seeped into everyone’s consciousness. If that was true, companies wouldn’t spend untold millions on crisis management. If that was true, people and companies wouldn’t worry about their reputations. If that was true, libel and slander attorneys would be extinct.

Reputations matter. And in the marketplace, they can make the difference between success and failure. But reputations can be destroyed by more than poor products, by more than inept pricing, by more than terrible customer service.

In the age of the Internet, in the era of ever-expansive social media, in the apparent need to be present all the time, on as many platforms as possible, we can destroy our reputations ourselves.

Here are some simple truths to which we can all agree:

• Customers and prospects have 24/7 access to information.

• There is an ever-increasing store of information and opinion on the Net.

• We are continually being told to tweet, connect, blog, post, create “white papers,” and “engage” in discussions.

Now, let’s step back for a second and think about what that means for reputation management.

How many of the blogs, posts, tweets, white papers, and discussions that you’ve seen actually add to your knowledge, challenge your thinking, change your perspective, or make you want to reach out to the authors or companies that produced them?

How many of them seem to be a waste of time, are an obvious effort in self-promotion or a restatement of what everyone else is saying? It doesn’t take too long before we stop going to their sites, skip their tweets, avoid their discussions, ignore their blogs, does it?

Name recognition for negative reasons is worse than no name recognition at all. It is the dark side of branding. Customers and prospects have choices in how to spend their precious time. Name recognition for negative reasons means they choose not to spend it with you.

So how can marketing be most effective in managing our reputations? It’s really not that hard.

• Ignore the gurus of “content management” and SEO who insist that “quantity becomes quality.” Less is more. Don’t burden your potential audience with unending streams of material that doesn’t add value. If you have something to say, say it. Otherwise, silence is golden.

• Presumably, people reading your materials, following your posts, going to your Web site do so because there is an interest. Satisfy their interest in your insights, products, or services with down-to-earth information they can use, benefits they can understand, rather than weighing them down with what you want to say or an attempt to only satisfy SEO robots.

• Understand that the right audience is more important to your business than just having a large audience. Ignore the calls to vastly increase your followers on Twitter, your likes on Facebook, your connections on LinkedIn and Google +, etc. Concentrate your efforts on adding value to the discussions in your industry and market space. The right audience will follow. And have some patience. Building the right audience doesn’t happen overnight.

We all know that branding and name recognition are critically important for marketplace success. But you want to be remembered for the right reasons. Branding and name recognition that make people ignore or avoid you will not improve your revenues. Reputation management matters.

Emily R. Coleman
Dr. Emily R. Coleman is President of Competitive Advantage Marketing, Inc., a firm that specializes in helping companies expand their reach and revenues through strategy and implementation. Dr. Coleman has more than 30 years of hands-on executive management experience working with companies, from Fortune 500 firms to entrepreneurial enterprises. Dr. Coleman's expertise extends from the integration of corporate-wide marketing operations and communications to the development and implementation of strategy into product development and branding.


  1. I agree with some of what you said, but NOT with:

    “In the age of the Internet, in the era of ever-expansive social media, in the apparent need to be present all the time, on as many platforms as possible, we can destroy our reputations ourselves”

    In fact I think that’s a mistake. You can’t possibly be everywhere, and the power of let’s say, negative tweets is far far less than one would think. see Why Negative Tweets About Your Brand Aren’t As Important As You Might Think – )

    It’s not tweets or social media that is the threat. It’s that the brand may be screwing up so badly that it’s damaging it’s reputation, and the solution is NOT to screw up in the first place. Worrying about what tweeters are saying, when in fact, those tweets have little effect on real life consumer behavior is really a waste of time if you are in fact, screwing up your products and services.

  2. I agree with you, Robert, about not being everywhere. I was talking about a common misconception; but apparently I was not clear enough about that. But I disagree with you that tweets and other social media are not damaging to a company’s reputation. You can tweet poorly and turn people off. Too much stuff on the social media platforms that doesn’t add any value can turn people off. Naturally, we have to worry about the quality of the brand. But a brand can be destroyed – or at least severely harmed – by not knowing how to represent it to customers and prospects. And, like it or not, social media are now part of that presentation package.

  3. Probably me reading too quickly. If you choose to tweet, and you do it badly, it’s no different than doing anything else badly. There might be consequences. But the part I’m not seeing is damage from customers tweeting their complaints, EVEN IF companies don’t respond to them.

    I know that’s counter-intuitive, but the disposable nature of tweets means not many people will SEE the complaints, less will read them, even less will remember them UNLESS they are already mad at the company anyway.

    Word of mouth is important, but the research is pretty clear that the really important sources are those that are known off line (friends, family) and NOT strangers you happen to “know” on Twitter.

    Of course, there are the very few twitter disasters that go viral, and that’s misleading. So few businesses suffer as a result of tweeted complaints going viral the odd of getting struck by lighting are higher.

  4. Can’t disagree with you. My point was not about customers tweeting. It was about the nonsense that passes for wisdom in so-called content marketing that says more is always better than less. A little good content is far better than a lot of mediocre content. And poor content can really be a killer for word of mouth, too. As to the research that says that those you know are more important than those you don’t, sure. Can’t argue with that. But the whole point of marketing is to get more people to know you. So don’t discount what social media can do, for both good and ill. Once again, I’m more concerned – in this blog – about how we can shoot ourselves in the foot than about people taking shots at us.

  5. Robert, you make a good point that there’s far more “noise” than “signal” in social media. And that influence of an individual tweet/post, or even a bunch of them, may not be high.

    Also agree that companies would be wise to work harder on fixing the root cause of problems that cause consumers to vent on social media and elsewhere.

    But it seems to me that social media can be extremely useful as a “canary in the coal mine” giving brands early warning of a problem that may need to be addressed.

    Also, there are plenty of examples of bad situations that have gone out of control, and brands have been hammered in the mainstream media for lack of social engagement.

    Are you suggesting that companies should just play the odds, ignore social media and hope that lightning doesn’t strike them?


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