Brand Reputation Management & Messaging: Lessons From LeBron James

LeBron James’ well-publicized exodus from Cleveland was a brutal betrayal to a city that worshipped him. Not only did James leave, but he announced the divorce in a tactless one-hour special that proved to be nothing less than an exercise in senseless ego basking.

Regardless of James’ lack of tact, one can’t help but beg the question: can you really blame him?

In attempting to land the star forward, Cleveland made some wretched errors, whereas Miami’s recruitment was near flawless. Any online marketplace has its fair share of Clevelands and Miamis that seem to thrive or falter based on their understanding of their customers, marketplace, and message. This article is dedicated to helping websites avoid the Cleveland blunders while learning to capitalize like Miami.

Understand Your Audience, then Message Appropriately

Cleveland missed the mark horribly in their pitch, because they didn’t understand their demographic. Cleveland thought they were pitching greatness to Michael Jordan, whereas Miami realized they were pitching an escape valve to an oversized kid who was succumbing to the pressure of carrying the pride of a city on his back. Consequently, Cleveland is jettisoned back to obscurity, largely because they couldn’t understand the needs of their biggest lead.

Websites frequently make the same mistakes because they have the audacity to think they “know their market,” and, as a result, rest their advertising fate on instinct, intuition, and the market perception of a chosen few. More successful companies thrive on understanding their market through quantitative and qualitative research studies, such as social media monitoring, audience research, and product sentiment analysis scans to provide a thorough analysis understand of the common public perception of your brand, your competitors, and your marketplace.

In terms of selecting the right message, too few organizations utilize PPC for one of its greatest strengths: message testing. When creating PPC campaigns, be sure to create dozens of ads that test messages in different ways. Then, look at the performance data through your analytics package:

  • Were CTRs higher?
  • What about time on site?
  • Did conversion rates improve?

These learnings can then be applied to offline marketing efforts.

Respect your Brand

Immediately after James announced his departure, Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert blasted a viscous (albeit somewhat deserved) e-mail in which he even accused James of “quitting” on the team during the playoffs. In the tirade, Gilbert called James “cowardly” and “narcissistic.”

This is the classic example of a company seriously damaging its brand for the sake of a temporary feel-good moment. In Gilbert’s case, how is the team expected to sign free agents after he publicly slammed the best player in the history of a franchise? In his blinding rage, Gilbert’s thoughtless actions will seriously impede their ability to create the caring, family environment that so many teams strive to achieve.

Right or wrong is irrelevant. In the long run, Gilbert’s actions will have a serious impact on the value of his brand.

Remember, listen to your audience and be sure to communicate positively. It’s much less expensive than moving your operation to Miami.

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