Brand safety: Balancing risk and opportunity for your organization
Using sentiment analysis to track your brand safety risk and dial your marketing and sales activity up or down as needed can help your business' bottom line.
Imagine a seesaw with a flamingo on one side and a grizzly bear on another. How would you ever stabilize them? That is how most digital marketers feel when they ask me to help balance out business-first decisions and brand safety. What does that mean? Simply put, it’s the natural and growing conflict between the need to increase profits or market share and ensuring that marketing and sales efforts don’t negatively impact the positive attitudes of prospects and customers toward the organization. Simpler yet, it’s the balancing of opportunity and risk in digital marketing and sales.
Balancing out these strategic and operational issues can appear complicated at first glance. But the uncomplicated place where I tend to start with anyone who calls me is understanding the specific growth or market challenges facing the organization and defining digital policy and practices around sentiment analysis.
Brands from any and all verticals use sentiment analysis to understand prospect and customer reactions, opinions and behaviors toward products or services. But while the analysis methodology has long been used to measure the latest social media campaign, it can be used as the foundation for your broader marketing and sales efforts, telling you exactly how far and fast you can push your efforts without damaging your brand. So why isn’t everyone jumping on the bandwagon? Should you take the leap? Let’s examine some of the intricacies of sentiment analysis to ensure you can proceed with eyes wide open.
The challenge of quantifying reputational risk
It is straightforward to tie a one-off large-scale event to brand and reputation impact. Consider a news story about a data breach or an accessibility lawsuit impacting your organization. Obviously we can calculate the loss of revenue, cost of recovery, and potential legal liability. Weighed against the cost of mitigation, we can derive a clear understanding of the risk/benefit scenario and make a business decision on the most logical path forward. What is much harder to measure is how broadly and for how long the news stories will continue to cause trust issues and ill will with prospects and customers.
What I’ve found to be successful is to gather all (or as many as possible) mentions of the organization across any and all channels (e.g., news, social media, TV, radio, customer service recordings, customer surveys, user purchasing history, etc.) and use a text and data analytics engine to measure sentiment. That means identifying and categorizing opinions expressed in a piece of text in order to determine if the attitude toward the organization is positive, negative, or neutral. By tracking organizational reputation (and brand) in key demographics and markets, we can develop a solid set of sentiments that can help us track risks that impact hard-to-measure things such as influence, trust, and leadership. This approach allows us to quantify a reputational baseline. Against that baseline, we can measure trends over time or at specific events, and leverage an agile methodology to test how aggressively we can market and sell before we start to get close to a decline in that influence, trust, and leadership area. In other words, we can tell how far we can push before we encounter brand risk and start to negatively impact our reputation.
Getting the full picture
Creating a picture of your organization’s reputational risk goes beyond understanding how the entity is viewed in the marketplace. It requires the identification and quantification of the reputation of your products as well as those of your suppliers. That means understanding your entire digital ecosystem and measuring its brand risk in the context of your organization, products, and services. For example, I have a client that was involved in the AWS data exposure incident earlier this year. While the AWS relationship with my client wasn’t known well publicly, it still had a (marginal) negative impact on the brand.
Each vendor, agency or independent consultant is part of your ecosystem. So are boards of directors (past and present), brand ambassadors and influencers, and anyone else who touches your brand. You should map them all out and, based on a matrix of prioritization, determine who should be included in your full-picture analysis. After all, there is risk associated with each entity. Conversely, if any one of those entities is seen favorably, you can also benefit from such awareness and sentiment.
Managing and capitalizing on event-based risks
Let’s continue this discussion with my AWS example. Understanding that there was a small, but real, brand risk, we decided with leadership to proactively reach out to users, and as news of the AWS breach began to spread, users were already informed of what the organization knows about the incident and what it was doing to ensure consumer data was protected. The reputational risk measurement indicated that we managed to contain the negative rollback on the organization’s brand. It also indicated to executives the level of effort to put into communicating around AWS and the incident in the future. Lastly, it allowed us to collectively understand what kind of risk we might have with AWS going forward and whether there was a return on investment (ROI) to be gained by moving to a different hosting environment.
The same approach that we used to determine the AWS incident risk and mitigate against it, devising a good response plan, could be used in a number of other scenarios to understand marketing and sales options for your organization. Consider for a moment the latest YouTube advertising scandal. Your organization could perform the same analysis used for the AWS sentiment analysis to understand impact on competitors and other operating companies advertising on YouTube. Based on the negative brand impact (if any), you could better understand the type of risk your business could incur and proceed to use YouTube advertising or, conversely, stop advertising in that channel.
Will you keep your finger on the pulse of brand safety?
By using sentiment analysis, you can keep your finger on the pulse of your brand safety risk and dial your digital marketing and sales activity up or down as appropriate, thereby delivering on the business’ bottom line. You can also minimize your exposure to brand-damaging events. With a measured approach, you can best balance your opportunity and risk and develop a better approach to marketing and sales. Moreover, you can develop the type of digital policies that will unleash creativity and innovation in the organization while keeping the business safe.