Brand and Reputation

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When Tim Cook came out as gay last October, the chief executive of Apple did so in his own words in an opinion piece for Bloomberg Businessweek – rather than in a TV interview – that was a master class in reputation management. The potential risks were high both for Mr Cook and Apple. Few business leaders talk about their sexuality and, as he noted, there are plenty of states in America and other countries around the world – some of them key markets for Apple – that are homophobic. But Mr Cook explained how he felt he owed it to gay people in less senior roles who fear coming out. "I consider being gay one of the greatest gifts God has given me," he wrote, timing his announcement for just weeks after the record-breaking launch of the iPhone 6 and Apple's annual results. His decision was widely lauded – Time magazine said he had "set a new paradigm" – and it showed the former chief financial officer as a distinctive personality who had emerged from the shadow of the late Steve Jobs, Apple's founder. This underlined a growing view on Wall Street that Mr Cook had the confidence to pioneer new products, such as the Apple Watch, in a post- Jobs era. Apple's share price, which had already doubled since Mr Cook took charge, has risen 20 per cent on the strength of record results since October, when he came out. He has spoken out further, sending a tweet in March in which he con - demned the US state of Indiana's latest anti-gay legislation and linked his sexuality with the company by declaring: "Apple is open to every- one." His comment was retweeted and favourited 30,000 times. The disappearance of a passenger jet is always going to be difficult, but Malaysia Airlines' handling of the flight MH370 disaster was wide- ly seen as a public relations failure. The decision to inform anguished relatives by text message, two weeks after the plane went missing in March 2014, that their loved ones were presumed dead, was the worst moment in a catalogue of mistakes. Within hours of the plane disap - pearing, Malaysia Airlines strug- gled to communicate amid a frenzy of speculation on social network- ing sites. Critics said the airline was under- prepared and its top executives should have taken the lead in brief- ing the media, instead of initially leaving it to more junior staff. Cha- otic meetings with relatives and the complex nature of the investigation, involving a state-backed airline and multiple Asian governments that were not used to public scrutiny, added to the sense of a crisis that was out of control. Malaysia Airlines' share price halved in three months and then their flight MH17 was shot down over war-torn Ukraine. Hugh Dunleavy, the airline's direc - tor of commercial, later defended the handling of MH370. "People say, 'Why didn't you work quicker?'" he said, but there was a deluge of "false information". Sending a text to relatives "wasn't done in a callous way" because the news was about to break and the airline didn't want them to hear it first from the media. Yet Malaysia Airlines kept making mistakes. In September, it launched a marketing campaign called My Ultimate Bucket List about things to do before you die. Two months later, it sent a tweet asking: "Want to go somewhere, but don't know where?" These gaffes pointed to an ongo - ing problem as the airline failed to manage its brand and reputation in a joined-up way. SUCCESS FAILURE COMMERCIAL FEATURE Richard Harrison Managing director UK GET THE REVIEWS YOU DESERVE Reviews of services or products can boost or blight a business, but they can be misleading Holidaymakers go through a familiar ritual. Before they book a hotel, they'll go to TripAdvisor and check out the reviews online. If the hotel has cockroaches in the kitchen, it will be clear in seconds. The reviews can reveal all. It's not just hotels. We use reviews to assess the quality of almost everything. Whether you want a dentist or a mechan- ic, you can read the detailed comments of other customers before you buy. No profession escapes scrutiny. Electri- cians are reviewed on Checkatrade, cafés on Yell, hairdressers on Google. Even doctors are getting scrutinised by sites such as RateMDs.com. Reviews are a way of life for consum- ers. The rise of reviews ought to be great for strong businesses. They'll get the recognition they deserve. But there is a problem. Reviews may not reflect what customers truly feel. It is well documented that negative experiences are far more likely to result in reviews than good ones. It's rooted in neurology. Roy F. Baumeister, professor of social psychology at Florida State Uni- versity, put it succinctly in a paper for the Review of General Psychology: "Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereo- types are quicker to form and more resist- ant to disconfirmation than good ones." Review sites can thus give a distort- ed picture. Even if just 20 people out of 1,000 had a bad experience, the bad re- views may outnumber the good. Worse, rival companies may add a few negative reviews to the competition. Unethical, yes. But it happens. To thrive in this new world of reviews, companies need to redress the balance. It can be as straightforward as increasing the quantity of reviews. Reputation.com helps businesses generate these reviews in a fair and truthful manner. "We start by simply asking customers for reviews," says Rich- ard Harrison, Reputation.com's UK man- aging director. "We give businesses an iPad or they can buy their own, so when customers leave they are asked to swipe a star rating as their review. If they want, they can add a few comments. This gets added to the business's own review site." This approach means the number of reviews rises and the business can track feedback - valuable for marketing. A follow-up boosts the effect. "Later, we e-mail the customer asking them to leave another review on a third-party site, such as TripAdvisor or Yell. They are usu- ally happy to, if they left an earlier one," says Mr Harrison. Once more the number of reviews rises, and the overall balance is natu- rally redressed. Reputation.com amplifies the impact of reviews via Twitter, Facebook and other social media. And its software gives clients a centralised view of cover- age on all review sites. "There's no mystery to it," says Mr Har- rison. "Getting better reviews is about making it easy for customers to add their thoughts to review sites. The more reviews, the more accurate the picture for potential customers doing research on review sites." As the number of reviews builds, a business can insure against a single bad review – they will still happen, no matter what – impacting trade. "Reviews are a huge part of commerce today," says Mr Harrison. "We make sure businesses get fair reviews. We advise companies on how to spread coverage across the sites which matter. If they need more Yell or Checkatrade reviews, we push customers gently in that direction. "Getting the coverage you want begins with getting engaged. It is an issue far too important to neglect." To find out more visit Reputation.com Reputation.com helps businesses generate reviews in a fair and truthful manner BRAND & REPUTATION | 07 RACONTEUR | 28 / 04 / 2015 raconteur.net

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