Brand damage can be mitigated with good communications

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August 1, 2010
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October 12, 2010

With more media coverage this week following a directional hearing on the sexual harassment charges against David Jones and its former chief executive, I’m wondering just how much the issue will harm the David Jones brand?

With more media coverage this week following a directional hearing on the sexual harassment charges against David Jones and its former chief executive, I’m wondering just how much the issue will harm the David Jones brand?

Brand experts earlier suggested that there will be considerable damage, but I’m not completely convinced. There are still a lot of unknowns, such as the tone of ongoing media coverage, what other allegations might emerge, and the scope of the company’s culpability, but most people judge David Jones by their own individual shopping experience, not corporate scandal.

I think this is unlikely to change, and it is hard to imagine circumstances where people will stop shopping at David Jones if it continues to offer, and improve on, the standards and benefits that first attracted them.

For most of these shoppers, the chief executive’s behaviour is not the personal face of the company (unlike for investors and other stakeholders, perhaps). The face of the company to the average shopper is the person they deal with across a counter and this is where trust must be established. If staff attitudes to service aren’t affected by the issue, then its long-term effect could be minimal. And with David Jones’ marketing budget, “feel good” promotions can also help restore brand image and overcome damage.

A similar point (except for the size of the promotional budget!) can also be made about financial planners where the sector overall has been severely criticised in recent times. If “financial planning” is considered a brand, it has taken a fair battering and trust has been eroded.

However, for people using or seeking the assistance of financial planners, has it made a great deal of difference? Perhaps it may have put some prospective clients off, but not so much for existing clients who had confidence in their trusted adviser.

Now that the major stumbling blocks to the image of professionalism, such as commissions and acting in the best interest of clients, are being addressed, and complexities in investment and superannuation continue, I believe the “financial adviser” brand will come to its own once again and trust re-established.

Recent research continues to show that most clients are satisfied with the service they get from their financial planner. Indeed, such research supports the view that word-of-mouth recommendation for new business is still the most powerful.

One area that a recent survey showed (which to me as a public relations practitioner was a bit disappointing) is that financial planners rate quite poorly on communications. It is a criticism that was levied during the financial crisis in particular, where clients simply didn’t hear from their planner.

While frequent personal contact with all clients may not be feasible, in these days of electronic communication, it is surprising that financial planners don’t use it more in a planned and sustained way as a matter of course. The importance of personal relationships is critical in establishing trust, maintaining a loyal client base, and in business development. Use of electronic communication and social media is not only easy but relatively inexpensive – especially compared to the old days of printing, copying and mailing for all written communication.

A while ago I had a management consultant as a client who told me the story of a company asking his firm to develop a system to help them manage their email communications. He pointed out to them that the proprietary software they were using would do all that they wanted and it was unnecessary to invest more. It stuck in my mind as I know that I only use a fraction of the power provided by my internet-based communication system and I suspect many firms are in the same boat and do not make full use of the communication systems on their computer.

Apart from the power of proprietary email systems, and their ease of use, there are a number of additional approaches that can be taken that really only need a little organisation and ongoing discipline from the firm. This includes personalised and regular email communication with clients when any events impact on investments, distribution of electronic newsletters and commentary to support relationships, and social media to encourage client contact with the firm if they have any queries.

One thing that is important in client communication is that it must be based on information that’s useful or interesting to them, not what is important to the firm.

Another easy-to-implement communication, and useful information-passing activity that doesn’t seem to be used as regularly as it should by more financial planners, is client seminars and briefings. Such presentations held a couple of times a year with expert guest speakers talking on investment (for example from fund managers) are not difficult to run, and are a terrific way to communicate with all clients. Even if only a small number turn up, it adds value to the relationship with all clients, as the firm is contacting them a couple of times a year to provide a service.

And, if clients are encouraged to bring a friend, it is a way of producing new business leads.