Managing Brand Backers and Haters


In action sports, the majority of the product being sold is by marketing companies pushing a brand. Whether it be the manufacturer or the retailer, we’re all eternally striving to build brand loyalty. The internet opens up incredible opportunities to help in this effort, but it also provides an avenue for haters and competitors to detract from the message and bring a brand and a brother down.

Karen Klein,  Business Week’s Smart Answers columnist, recently sat down with  B.J. Bueno, founder and managing partner of The Cult Branding Company, whose clients include Kohl’s and the LA Lakers, to discuss disciplined brand management in the digital age, employee buy-in, and low cost strategies for start ups and small businesses. Here are the highlights:

Karen E. Klein: What causes customers either to fall in love with a small business or to hate it?

B.J. Bueno: Feeling is the beginning. A transactional customer looks for cheaper prices. He is thinking when he is shopping--as opposed to being guided by his feelings. Most small businesses can’t afford to compete on the commodity level. They want customers who become brand believers. Now you’re in a different realm, where the consumer feels first and thinks later.

Angry customers can become aggressive about spreading bad faith through word of mouth or online. What triggers someone to act out a vendetta against a small business?

It’s certainly true that bad word of mouth tends to catch fire faster than good word of mouth. There’s a human explanation: When we lose, it feels bad. But when we win, we get double the good feelings.  People who have had a negative experience will do everything in their power to hijack your brand.

What can a business owner do about a brand detractor?

Understand that with some people, you’re not going to win. The minute you get adversarial, it gets worse. On the other hand, it can be very empowering to show the public who you really are and invite a dialogue. It all depends on the business ownership. You can’t send a grumpy ogre out there to calm things down.

What about negative associations that arise on the Internet?

It used to be that the cream would rise to the top. But on the Internet, it’s a battling of opinions based on volume. You can spend time coming up with a reasonable argument or apology, and no matter how good it is, you’ll get drowned out.

Sometimes there’s a practical way to solve this, like posting a simple FAQ on your Web site refuting some negative beliefs about your company. Once something is labeled as rumor, it’s less likely to propagate.

What makes someone a brand booster?

The biggest drivers I’ve seen are when the brand becomes a deep experience or a memory, and customers tell stories about the brand. The brand actually comes to define them.

How can that be encouraged?

Find ways to create an anticipated reward for your customers. Commit to doing something extra, and let your customers in on the planning. Make people anticipate your new product, or your new shipment, or the big sale you have coming up.

Don’t have a sale every weekend, like the big retailers do. Create something that happens once or twice a year and make it fun. Update your customers on what’s happening with the event, and then make it better every year so your customers can get in on it and they start rooting for you.

To read the full interview go HERE.