By Bill Coletti, CEO, Kith
- A company owns its brand but the public owns its reputation, which is why companies must ensure that they are always meeting consumer expectations
- Product marketers’ secrets can help reputation management professionals maximize results and help companies get the credit they deserve
There is one fundamental truth in reputation management, and that is: a company owns its brand but the public owns its reputation. Oftentimes, companies will lose sight of this core truth and ignore the issues that matter to consumers–whether they be transparent business practices, animal well-being standards or other key policies—which is a perilous path.
Especially in our age of immediate access to information, consumers now expect and want more from companies. A recent study conducted by Deloitte Consulting, The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) showed that in the food industry specifically, consumers have started making food purchasing decisions based on an expanded set of needs, including: safety, wellness and social impact.
Customers also want companies to address the policies that matter to them.
With consumer demands growing, companies that want to be successful are listening closely to consumer expectations and adjusting accordingly. No one knows how to do this better than product marketers who are responsible for bringing new, oftentimes multi-million-dollar products to life. For product marketers, failure is not an option as the product’s success can determine the success or failure of the business.
How Apple led the “i revolution”
Flash back to the late 1990s when Steve Jobs returned to Apple and unleashed the “i” revolution, from iPhones to iPads. Jobs’ genius? His laser-like focus on transforming Apple from a computer hardware supplier into a consumer products company. Using a disciplined product marketing rigor, Jobs ensured that every product Apple produced met customer and stakeholder needs, and rallied everyone within Apple around the same vision. By the time the first-generation iPhone debuted in 2007, nobody, not even Apple, knew what a phenomenon it would become. And it changed the way we look at phones forever.
Unlocking the 7 secrets to policy launch success
Great product marketers like Apple reveal intriguing insights about how communicators can bring new ideas and policy innovations to life. Successful marketers follow a rigorous roadmap defined by a logical set of steps to launch a new product. During the product design phase, thorough research determines whether the marketplace needs the proposed solution. If yes, the team designs a prototype and tests it for reliability. In the second phase, full-scale development and manufacturing brings the product to life. Following the product launch, results are measured in sales.
A similar framework can also bring a new policy to market through a seven-step process:
- Public policy fit/gap analysis. What has your company already worked on regarding its public policies? What gaps need to be filled?
- Policy prototype. Write down the new policy. Is your company modifying its labor practices? Is it changing a policy related to antibiotics or pharmaceutical use? Consider what the marketplace needs to hear about in terms of key policies affecting your industry.
- Business impact. Can the company afford this policy launch? Is the cost acceptable for what the business is trying to accomplish?
- Internal/external stakeholder testing. Tension can occur at this stage as stakeholders analyze the new policy. Questions might range from “Why do we have to lead on this issue?” to “Isn’t our trade association working on this?” The legal department may also raise concerns. Feedback from internal and external stakeholders should influence the wording of the policy. As Steve Jobs demonstrated at Apple, it’s important to ensure all stakeholders understand the mission so they can all align around the new policy.
- Project management and planning. After a draft of the new policy has been approved, connect with influencers and opinion leaders. Rely on them as mini focus groups to pre-test your company’s policy. Also, reach out to trade association leaders, attorneys and others in your industry. Ask them what they think the marketplace’s reaction will be to the policy. If you don’t have existing relationships with key influencers, work with an agency partner that has these relationships in place. They can serve as an excellent sounding board.
- Policy launch. Support the policy launch with public relations, advertising and marketing to spread the word.
- Measurement. Assess the effectiveness of the policy launch, from media coverage to sales growth.
Does it take more time to follow this seven-step process versus the traditional approach? It requires a bit more deliberation, but the results are worth it. Consider a major agribusiness corporation that implemented this 7-step policy launch system after a livestock antibiotic issue led to their missed expectations with consumers.
The company researched consumers’ beliefs and analyzed the missed expectations. After discussing the issue internally, the company reached out to stakeholders affected by the antibiotic issue. The outreach helped the company determine how its public policy should fit the situation. It also spoke with select external stakeholders to ensure that they were aligned with the new policy.
After the company launched its new policy, company managers began measuring the results, which were compelling. Along with positive coverage in the Wall Street Journal, the company recorded higher sales. The announcement also strengthened its leadership position on the issue in the industry. The positive public response has encouraged the company to replicate the seven-step policy launch process for all of its policy announcements.
Communicators at best-in-class organizations will find great value from adopting a proven, product marketing framework for policy launches. A seven-step process for reputation management can keep your business ahead of key policy issues, while a more disciplined approach can help accelerate your company’s success by satisfying key stakeholders and boosting your bottom line.
Check out other critical moment insights for smart people in our blog archive.