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The Importance of Brand Monitoring in Ecommerce

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The Importance of Brand Monitoring in Ecommerce
 Higher profile tech product sellers are increasingly aware that overall profit margins can be seriously affected by sudden surges or declines in demand. 
 
Brand monitoring, where a brand proactively monitors complaints, feedback and any representation of its brand made in public, is an important part of any sales strategy for tech products (especially one that envisages high volumes of sales, over a short period of time) because even isolated instances of complaints or negative publicity can significantly impact sales, growth, consumer trust and overall profit. 
 
Basic brand monitoring strategies can help to safeguard the reputation of tech products by flagging up negative reviews, publicity, feedback and even what people are saying in forums or on social media regarding a particular tech product, so that the brand will have an early opportunity to respond, whether by responding to an individual situation or by tweaking a product design or feature. 
 
This proactive approach to brand monitoring is especially important where tech products are concerned because tech products, in general have shorter “shelf lives” compared to other products, simply because of the rate at which tech is developing and the speed at which new technologies emerge to replace or update older technologies. As such, tech product sellers usually depend on high volumes of sales, over a relatively short period of time to generate profits. 
 
So, how is a basic brand monitoring strategy for ecommerce tech products created and implemented? 
 
 
What is brand monitoring and how does it help businesses?
 
Brand monitoring (also known as social media listening and web monitoring) is a strategy involving the monitoring and evaluation of a brand and how it appears to the general public via various channels including social media, the internet, review websites, broadsheet media, magazines and public forums. Brand monitoring helps a brand understand how they are perceived by different stakeholders including its own customers, the public, competitor brands, the media and the industries within which the brand operates. 
 
Experts agree that this strategy can be used to improve communications between a brand and several of its key stakeholders, including its own customer base. As such, it is often used as a means of attracting new customers and retaining existing ones. It helps to attract new customers and retain existing ones because it enables a brand to understand key demographics surrounding its customer base, and it helps a brand to actively listen to its customer base. This, in turn enables a brand to better target prospective new customers and quickly respond to customer needs and preferences. 
 
Brand monitoring also enables brands to get the most out of their advertising budgets. By listening and constantly evaluating how a brand is being mentioned or spoken about on different channels, a brand can decide to invest more or less budget as appropriate. This might be a decision to spend more cash trying to reach new customers through the channels where existing customers are the most active or engage the most, or it might be a decision to divert spending from an area where customers are the least active, thereby maximising the impact of every pound spent on advertising. 
 
Brand monitoring is essential to the evaluation of overall advertising impact. If a brand spends thousands of pounds on a paid advertising campaign on social media, then the brand will inevitably want to know how many customers have been reached, what the quality of interactions have been and the content of any feedback and discussions. This type of evaluation can then be used to compare different advertising campaigns and decide which have been the most successful. Successful campaigns can be repeated, or expanded, whereas less successful ones can be discontinued. 
 
Competitor Monitoring 
 
Brands can be monitored indirectly, through their competitors, for example, or through the wider industry they are operating within. A simple example is that the Apple brand should not only be “listening” for direct references to its own brand on social media and through other forms of media, it also needs to “listen” to news, trends and commentary relating to other brands. This can be highly advantageous, and it can give a brand clues as to what areas to expend into and even, how to develop its product portfolio. A good example of successful brand monitoring is the recent decision by Shopify to expand into order fulfilment and thus become a direct competitor of Amazon, which currently dominates the market for order fulfilment. Despite Amazon’s status as one of the largest and most powerful players in order fulfilment, rumours have been rife for months about problems Amazon has experienced with its delivery partners, the general performance of the brand over Christmas 2018 and mounting discontent from Amazon users who complain about Amazon data policies. Many commentators suggest that Shopify considered all of these factors to be a ripe opportunity to create a competitor brand and try to win over some existing Amazon customers. 
 
 
Deciding Strategic Direction 
 
Brand monitoring can also be an important tool used by high level company executives to decide on strategic direction. Mc Donald’s is a good example. When now-axed Mc Donald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook took over in 2015, one of the first things he did was respond to the public discontent with the quality of Mc Donald’s ingredients, remarking “we cannot ignore what customers are saying”. Since 2015, he has taken steps to improve the supply chains for ingredients, adopt the use of fresh beef and he has changed the menu by removing certain items including one type of quarter pounder and six different types of chicken sandwiches. This approach paid dividends for the business as a whole, which has seen its share price more than double since 2015. 
 
Other brands like Airbnb are taking a more proactive approach to brand monitoring, and are creating crisis management responses to events that could cause damage to the brand in the long-term, almost immediately. For example, the recent shooting at an overcrowded Airbnb “party house” was followed in a matter of hours by an announcement by the Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky, who stated on Twitter “Starting today, we are banning “party houses” and we are redoubling our efforts to combat unauthorized parties and get rid of abusive host and guest conduct, including conduct that leads to the terrible events we saw in Orinda…”. Proactive brand monitoring like this allows for an optimal crisis management response to a credible threat to a brand image or model, and a good brand monitoring strategy will allow for a range of threats and responses to be identified as early as possible. 
 
What should brands be monitoring?
 
Brands should be monitoring keywords associated with their brand and how these appear across the internet especially on social media channels. This can be the name of the brand, the name of key staff members or high-profile employees, product or service names. If we use Microsoft as an example, this brand should, for example, be monitoring “Microsoft”, “Satya Nadella” (the current Microsoft CEO) and keywords associated with its main products like “Microsoft Office”.
 
It is a good idea to monitor possible misspellings of the brand or its main products, services and employees. Furthermore, it is a good idea to monitor terms that are specific to a product or a specific industry. For example, the keyword “cloud-based computing” would be a good industry related keyword for Google to monitor since it provides these services alongside a number of competitor brands. 
 
 
How to implement brand monitoring: different approaches and channels
 
Social media 
 
Social media is one of the most important channels that should be monitored for brand monitoring purposes. Negative publicity and comments regarding a product spreads quickly on social media, and even one negative comment can quickly reach a large audience. Furthermore, negative publicity can then begin to travel by word of mouth, and this is something that will compound brand damage. It is sometimes very unfair to businesses and product designers, but even unreasonable feedback or comments can have a damaging impact, due to this “contagion” effect of remarks and feedback spread via social media channels. This is why the early intervention that brand monitoring allows for is key. Brand monitoring of social media should key track of comments, shares and reviews of the brand or product being monitored. 
 
Resellers 
 
Many products are distributed through resellers and third-party distributors, however, negative publicity surrounding a third-party distributor, or a reseller can have an impact on the actual product or brand. This is why brands need to be careful of what other businesses they associate their product or brand with and monitor the activities of resellers and other distributors, in addition to the “parent” brand or product. 
 
 
Price violations 
 
Brand monitoring can be used to identify and quickly remedy pricing violations for example where a retail partner slashes the cost of a product to increase its own sales. These kinds of violations can have a “ripple” effect, particularly where they occur in relation to fast-selling tech products.
 
A price violation may create expectations from customers that the product can be obtained more cheaply, which can hit retail outlets hard by reducing demand, diverting sales to other outlets or engendering a “wait and see” approach among customers who may think they can get a better price if they “hold off” on making purchases. Moreover, when one retail partner observes that another has reduced the price of a product, it may decide to slash the price as well, in order to guarantee its own sales. If these types of price violation are left unsupervised and unchecked, this can have a significant impact on demand for products and sales. 
 
Savvy retailers are using price monitoring software to check up on retail partners to ensure that the correct prices and pricing policies are being used. This enables them to identify price violations quickly, and importantly, to locate the source of the price violation by analysing how prices have changed over a certain period of time. 
 
Suppliers & Supply Chains 
 
A brand needs to monitor all of the stakeholders in the manufacture process of a tech product. Apple got into a lot of trouble, for example when it failed to monitor shoddy business practices on the part of its Chinese suppliers. One particularly damaging incident was when one of Apple’s Chinese suppliers of raw materials polluted a river so badly that it turned milky white and drew negative publicity from press and environmental interest groups alike. 
 
 
Monitoring of “mentions” 
 
Brand monitoring does not have to be overly concerned with negative publicity. Positive mentions of a brand will probably be a more frequent occurrence, and this is an invaluable measure of who well a brand or a product is doing. Volume of mentions can be compared to ascertain what aspects of the brand or a product need to be promoted more. 
 
Instances of NOT being mentioned are also very important to keep track of. Again, this analysis can open a window into product performance or popularity.  
 
 
Review sites 
 
Tech products are frequently reviewed on so-called “review websites”. On these types of sites, independent reviewers will test the product and leave a detailed review of its features and overall functionality. 
 
If one aspect of the design of a product is criticised, then at least when a brand is aware this is the case, a response can be considered. 
 
 
Brand monitoring to identify counterfeiting and fraud 
 
The internet can be a dangerous place for a brand to exist and not everybody has honest intentions, so brands need to be vigilant that reviews, comments and reactions to their “product” via various platforms are actually responses to the use of genuine products. A brand can be damaged just as badly, if a review site contains a review of a fake product. 
 
Brand monitoring in this field should focus on removing any references to counterfeit products and dealing with any fraudulent replica products as quickly as possible.  
 
 
Forums 
 
Brand mentions on forums is something that needs to be monitored. There are many extremely popular forums surrounding tech products and being mentioned on one of these can have a significant impact on sales revenues and the levels of trust and confidence that consumers are willing to place in a product or brand. 
 
 
Alerts 
 
Brand monitoring can take the form of alerts being set on popular websites like Lexis Nexis, TweetDeck and Google Alerts. These allow for an alert to be sent when a certain term or phrase is used.  
 
 
Brand monitoring by association 
 
Experts recommend that brand monitoring should always extend beyond the reach of a particular brand or product to the overall industry within which the product or brand fits. If there is a scandal at industry level, this can have much potential to cause damage to a product or a brand, even if there is no direct link between the brand or product and the scandal itself. A good example is when Apple experienced negative publicity surrounding the raw materials it was suing in the manufacture of its iPhones. Some raw materials were apparently polluting rivers and waterways in China and Indonesia. This “industry news” demanded an immediate response from Apple, however it also necessitated a response from every other phone manufacturer out there, since the public were being invited to scrutinise just what environmental impact their devices were having on the environment as a whole. 
 
Another example might be a popular invention or technology. If a brand is not aware of a spike in interest or discussion surrounding something very current or popular, they could miss out on important opportunities for brand and product expansion. A brand may also risk being perceived as not being “in the loop” if there is important industry news that is not responded to or mentioned, and this can have a consequential impact on sales and demand for products. 
 
 
“Leaking” as a method of brand monitoring 
 
A common brand monitoring strategy is where a tech product review is “leaked” in advance of a product launch. The “leaker” will generally have privileged access to the product and can accurately describe its functionality and features by sharing screenshots, images and videos of the product working. This is then released to the general public and the response is monitored. Brands can consider the feedback and use it to decide whether to tweak a product before its official release. 
 
This strategy is widely used in IT and gaming, for example Slightly Mad Studios released “sneak peek” images of its games console the “Mad Box” console prior to its scheduled release date. The influx of feedback, particularly in relation to the design of the console enabled Slightly Mad Studios to do a u-turn and redesign the aesthetics and some of the key features of the console – an approach that undoubtedly led to better sales and profits in the long run. 
 
Microsoft has been known to practise this strategy, while retaining a certain element of “deniability” whereby if changes are necessitated due to the reception received in relation to certain products the manufacturer can distance itself from the so-called “leaker” of information and re-design products prior to their official release. 
 
Whatever approach is adopted this is a tried and tested approach which allows manufacturers of tech products to get a “heads up” on how certain products will be received by the general public. It is invaluable because it allows designers an opportunity to make final tweaks and finishing touches that will provide a boost to sales upon the official release of the product to the public. 
 
 
Brand monitoring for ecommerce techsales; why is it important?
 
Brand monitoring is especially important for tech products because of the short windows of opportunity within which retailers can make a profit from selling tech products. As such, brands need to be especially sensitive to factors that can impact demand for tech products after their release. 
 
Brand monitoring is a tried and tested technique that can deliver valuable feedback to a retailer which can inform future strategic direction or necessary remedial actions to safeguard the reputation and overall profitability of a tech product. 
 
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