In 2019, Contently, a content marketing software company that connects freelancers with enterprise brands, made a controversial move — in an effort to increase profitability and, in turn, provide more creative opportunities to their freelancers, the company announced that they'd begin charging freelancers a mandatory service fee for every assignment they book.
As you might already know, the response wasn't great. Many freelancers messaged the company and explained the fee could hamper their earning potential, or even end their freelance careers.
Fortunately, the freelancers' feedback didn't go unnoticed or unrewarded. As a result of the honest feedback, Contently's CEO Joe Coleman announced via Twitter that the company had decided not to implement the new service fee.
Contently's realization that they weren't prioritizing the needs of their customers ultimately helped save — and even enhance — their corporate image.
Here, let's dive into what corporate image is, and why it matters. Plus, five ways you can bolster your own corporate image today.
What is corporate image?
Your company's corporate image is your brand's public perception. You can help shape it by telling the public what kind of company you are through marketing and advertising.
But what really sculpts your corporate image is your company's actions, like performing well financially, developing innovative products and services, following ethical business practices, actually operating by your values, appropriately responding to company criticism, providing tremendous customer service, treating your employees with dignity and respect, and attracting elite talent.
All of these actions fuel the flywheel of your brand's word-of-mouth marketing, which is the most effective and trusted form of marketing, especially when the internet has enabled every brand to scream for your audience's attention today.
Developing a stellar corporate image also opens up more opportunities for customer testimonials, case studies, product reviews, and awards that can provide the social proof needed to earn new customers' trust.
Why Corporate Image Is More Important Than Ever Before
Nowadays, most people support brands that share the same values as them.
In fact, brand values is often a critical factor in someone's purchasing decision. For instance, 83% of millennials find it important to purchase from companies that align with their values.
Additionally, Weber Shandwick, one of the world's leading global public relations firms, found that global executives, on average, attribute 63% of their company's market value to their company's overall reputation.
More than likely, you already know this on a quantitative level, as well. Consider, for instance, the last time you made a purchase on a product or service for which you could have found a cheaper alternative.
Perhaps you purchased a new iPhone, or splurged on that Patagonia jacket you've wanted for a while.
Ultimately, you likely made that purchasing decision, at least in part, due to the brand's reputation and overall image.
That is why corporate image matters — it can influence whether consumers' want to buy from you, and can increase brand loyalty when people feel your values align with their own.
Next, let's dive into how you can boost your own corporate image.
How to Improve Corporate Image
1. Identify your company's purpose.
If you truly want to build a loyal following for your brand and, in turn, strengthen your reputation, your company's core message should focus on your purpose -- not how you make your product or what your product is.
This notion, that people buy the "why" behind your organization -- not the "what" or "how" — isn't just some idealistic trend catching fire in the business world today, though. It's actually rooted in human biology.
The most primal part of the brain is called the limbic system, and it controls all decision making. It also happens to control all our emotions and feelings. So, resonating with your audience will also appeal to the part of the brain that's responsible for action. In other words, if you can evoke emotion, you can drive behavior.
Conveying a clear and convincing purpose through all your brand's actions will forge the emotional connection required to persuade an audience to support you. And the more people who support you, the stronger your reputation will become.
2. Make sure you can walk the walk.
Sometimes, brands that want to reap the rewards of being a mission-driven company don't actually adhere to the values they claim they're so passionate about. But even though being aquasi-mission-driven company can attract new customers, once they uncover your hypocrisy, it's almost impossible to retain them.
A Yale psychology study suggests that highlighting your morality is essentially a short-cut to high status. But if people realize you don't actually possess the traits that shot you up the social ladder, they'll lose trust in you and respond harshly to your deception.
Before you start boasting about your company's dedication to putting the customer first, make sure your actions are actually aligned with these values, or that you have a plan in place to do so.
3. Own your mistakes.
Even the smartest brands make mistakes. But what separates the great companies from the good ones is their ability to admit that their wrong and change course in light of new information. Unfortunately, a lot of companies won't admit their mistakes or change their minds, even if it's the right choice, because they have too much pride or don't want to seem weak.
However, admitting you're wrong actually requires a lot more strength than sticking to something that hurts your customers just because you've invested a lot of time or effort into an initiative. By owning your mistake and correcting it -- instead of blaming the issue on external factors -- your customers will understand the rationale behind your decision and appreciate your honesty and humbleness.
Just like Contently, making a mistake that hurts you customers can spark harsh backlash and even start a trending Twitter hashtag that undermines your brand's integrity. But, ultimately, you can still earn back your customers' trust and support if you put your pride aside and own and correct your mistakes.
4. Offer the best customer service possible.
For many customers, one of the first interactions they'll have with your brand is through a customer service representative — so customer service plays an undeniably critical role in corporate image.
Customer service representatives can demonstrate your company values in both their actions and words. For instance, consider Glossier's customer service department (known as the gTEAM), who are responsible for responding to customer messages on social media and creating personalized experiences for each customer who reaches out.
This type of authentic, customer-first attitude is a small example of a bigger Glossier core value: "Devoted to the Customer". Ultimately, each interaction your customer has with your company has the power to form their entire perception of your brand — and those customers will share both positive and negative feedback with friends. For this reason, customer service is a vital component to consider when improving corporate image.
5. Make sure your website and social media presence reflect your current corporate image.
Corporate images change over time. Just consider HubSpot's Culture Code, which has been updated over 25 times since it was first created — while the values have stayed the same, the messaging has required adjustments to reflect HubSpot's most up-to-date corporate image.
As your organization grows, as consumer preferences and industries change, and as you learn more about what makes your customers happy, your priorities or vision might shift slightly. To reflect the most relevant, accurate version of your corporate image, then, it's critical you maintain a strong social media and website presence.
Oftentimes, social media is the first opportunity people have to discover your brand — and they'll likely make a snap judgment of your entire image as a result of a few images or videos at the top of your feed. So make them count.
Similarly, your website is your digital storefront. In much the same way you might repaint your house every few years and add fresh flowers to the pots outside, you'll want to update your website regularly for freshness.
Take a look at your website and consider whether it truly reflects your current corporate image. If not, consider whether a complete redesign is necessary, or whether a few small tweaks could do the job.
Ultimately, creating a strong, positive corporate image can't happen in a vacuum. You'll need to align all aspects of your company — from marketing to sales and service and operations — under a strong vision and mission statement, and ensure leadership walks the walk when it comes to inspiring employees.
A strong corporate image will look different for each organization, but ultimately, corporate image can be the difference between a good company, and a great one.