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By Scott Yaw

When the name of the company is the brand that is marketed, “truth and authenticity” of the entire organization is on the line, everyday. This is even more vital for a startup or a small business. As time consuming as it may be, taking control of corporate brand perception is senior managements’ responsibility. As an entrepreneur, it’s critical that the brand and the subsequent belief system of an organization reflects the values of the start up and, more importantly, the businesses' target market.

Therefore, senior management and owners must “live the brand promise.” However, senior managers traditionally have lacked the time and tools to manage perceptions of the corporate brand. This may be changing, however. Blogs can be used strategically to let senior management connect to the realities of the competitive marketplace. Moreover, they are quick and efficient. The good news is that small businesses and startups typically are nimbler than their larger counterparts and can implement blogs more quickly. (I do suggest bringing in outside public relations or communications counsel). Blogs provide instant feedback and typically honest information. It is figuratively taking the pulse of your customers—and you must be comfortable receiving honest criticism and quickly and honestly respond.

It will be good for your brand, put you ahead of your competition, and prove that your organization is willing to take and respond to feedback.
A blog can be particularly beneficial to cash strapped small business. In many cases, cost prohibits small businesses from field research initiatives such as survey questionnaires and focus groups. In other cases, customers may be reluctant to give honest feedback to the small business. However, a blog may be the first time a small business gets an affordable opportunity to establish honest input from current customers and potential new customers they hope to serve.

As an example: My firm recently helped a regional gourmet coffee shop brand develop a separate blog site, not directly linked to their business. The basic idea is to get fast, free flow of information from customers on their business as well as new insight on the competition. This blog site has provided the gourmet coffee brand with new product ideas, information on store performance, personnel and pricing. It’s a way for them to tap into customer perceptions in real time. The greatest challenge we faced was convincing our client to be “stealth” and avoid promoting their brand. It’s been an eye-opening experience for their business and a strategy to stay ahead of competition.

Blogs are no longer a sub-culture of the Internet. They are a mainstream information resource. However, blogs are not a universal fit for every company. Unrestricted, honest feedback can liberate the company’s brand communication efforts or oppress the entire organization’s culture. The idea of launching an informal, open blog can strike terror in the heart of most controlling senior managers. But unlike other trendy business communications, blogs are a way for companies to receive truth, send truth and most importantly, manage public perception in real time.

Launching a small business brand blog sends a signal that the company is willing to share information and stand behind their actions. This is especially true when the blog allows visitors to post their own comments. If you determine a blog should be a major component of your corporate brand communications, here are three fundamentals to keep at the forefront:

Agree to a Strategic Role for the Corporate Blog: Develop a business plan for the blog that spells out objectives and responsibilities and insist on owner sign-off. Without this step, huge disappointment will surely follow. Companies should think of their blog as a vehicle to form a responsive dialog with employees, customers and suppliers. An effective blog site has a lead author who takes responsibility for content. Therefore, it’s critical for companies to appoint the right person to manage it. As hard as this is for controlling organizations to accept, corporate blogs should first reflect the writer’s personality, not just the self-serving interests of the company. Don’t make the mistake of turning the blog into a “selling tool” to push products. If it’s not honest, authentic and engaging to visitors, it won’t be read by anyone you want to reach out to.

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Scott Yaw is Managing Director of Deskey.
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