Is it true that “Any publicity is good publicity?” Surprisingly, a 2010 study has demonstrated that negative reviews can actually increase sales1. Before you get too excited about intentionally ruining your reputation, it is worth noting that this is an exception to the rule. Further, there were very specific circumstances that created this anomaly. Today we are going to explore reasons you should pay attention to building a good reputation. Next, we will look at practical strategies you can implement immediately to improve your reputation.

The role of emotions in buying decisions                                                                            

“People buy with emotions, and justify it with logic2” How people feel about your brand will have a greater influence on their buying decision than rational reasons. Think about it – why do people buy iPhones, despite having less advanced hardware? (FYI, I own an iPhone!). I believe a major reason is that Apple has successfully associated positive feelings about their brand. To quote Simon Sinek, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it3.”

Before you jump to the conclusion that this only applies to consumer products, imagine this scenario: You are in the middle of completing a report when the phone rings. You answer it, and are greeted by a B2B salesperson. He immediately proceeds to pitch his product from a brand you have never heard of. The salesperson demonstrates little care about your business or your challenges. How would you feel about this interaction? Would it really matter what they were selling? The negative emotions would be enough to say “no” without giving it another thought!

Reputation = Brand = How people feel about your product

Your reputation is synonymous with your brand. Further, when your customers look at your logo, it will immediately elicit certain emotions. Whether it is positive or negative will determine whether they will buy from you. It is for this reason that companies specialising in branding exist. Their skill is in creating an image for you that accurately represents what you believe in, and eliciting an emotional response in your customers.

What words and emotions come to your customers’ mind when they think about your brand? This will largely be determined by your values and how you communicate them. Before we explore practical tips for building your reputation, write down words and emotions that you want people to associate with your business. For example, Coca Cola might represent happiness, fun, or parties. Further, Google could stand for speed, ease of use, and minimalism. What does your business stand for?

Reputation builder #1: Conduct business consistently with your values

Almost every website will tout that they value integrity… But do they? To do business with integrity means being consistent in what you believe, say, and do. It means following ethics and morals, even when no one else will know. By repeating the behaviours that align with your values, your customers will build a corresponding psychological association with your brand.

To illustrate, my wife recently purchased a new Kindle from Amazon. The device had some issues with battery life, and so she contacted Amazon’s support. They offered to replace it, however what proceeded betrayed our feelings about Amazon’s customer support. The consultant promised to send my wife a paid return postage sticker. It never arrived. She attempted to contact Amazon via email, which promised 24-hour turnaround. To her dismay, my wife did not receive a response after 3 days. She resorted to calling support, only to be asked to put it in writing via email… Would you care to guess who we won’t be buying from next time we need an e-reader?

There were clearly issues with Amazon’s customer support system. In your business, you can minimise inconsistencies by living out your values internally. In the words of Richard Branson, “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” Give recognition for demonstrations of core behaviours. Deviations should be handled firmly yet sensitively. Further, find ways to systematise and measure the right behaviours. You may consider using a measure such as Net Promoter Score.

Reputation builder #2: When things go wrong, go the “extra mile”

In the above example, consider the amount of trouble my wife had to go through to receive the replacement device. In our minds, the inconvenience stacked on top of the price of the product. Legally, Amazon was only obligated to replace the faulty product. If they wanted to redeem themselves however, they would need to go over and above their obligations (hint: they didn’t!). While an apology was given, there was no tangible demonstration of their remorse.

By now I may have lowered your opinion of Amazon by sharing this story. Consider how this story might be different if they had gone out of their way to help us. I may have painted a completely different picture for you, and their reputation for great service would be intact (even elevated!).

No one is perfect. At some point, your product is going to fail at meeting customer expectations. How you handle it will determine whether your reputation is dragged through the mud or put on a pedestal. How will you demonstrate your values to your customers when things go wrong? Ensuring you resolve problems swiftly and with genuine care is a great start. You may even consider giving complimentary products or gift vouchers as tokens of your sincerity. When your customers are pleased, they’ll be sure to spread the word!

Reputation builder #3: Answer negative publicity with humility and grace

Even if you have fantastic service, “haters gonna hate.” Negative reviews, whether factual or biased, will affect your online reputation. How should you handle them, if at all?

My first tip in handling negative reviews is to take ownership of the problem. Denying that the issue exists or implying that the person is wrong is a recipe for trouble. Readers will interpret denial as immature and irresponsible. You may consider the following response:

“Thank you for sharing your experience; I appreciate your honesty and feedback.”

Secondly, avoid giving excuses. Mind you, this is different from giving reasons. Excuses abdicate responsibility, reasons accept it. Your response may sound like this:

“We are currently experiencing technical problems, and are working to resolve it ASAP”

You’ll notice that in this sentence, there is also an explanation of what is being done to rectify the problem!

Finally, take the issue offline. Words read on a screen will never communicate your tone of voice, sincerity, or intent as well as a voice over the phone can. Further, if the person is unreasonable, it would be impractical to let others view the transcript. To achieve this, simply request their details and contact them as early as possible.


Your brand and reputation are synonymous. How people feel about it will heavily influence whether they do business with you. To improve your reputation, you must first define your values and what you stand for. Next, conduct your business in a way that is consistent with your beliefs. When things go wrong, go the extra mile to make your customers happy. Finally, if you answer negative publicity with humility and grace, you can turn unhappy customers into promoters!

Sales Ethos provides sales training in Melbourne, Australia. Led by Ben Lai, our vision is to inspire and equip sales consultants and entrepreneurs to sell with purpose, pride, and integrity. Our core belief is that Integrity + Skills = Success, and achieve this by providing startup business coachingsales coaching, and sales process consulting.


1 Positive Effects of Negative Publicity: When Negative Reviews Increase Sales; Berger, Sorensen, Rasmussen; Marketing Science. October 2010, Vol. 29, Issue 5, Pages 815-827

2 How Emotions Influence What We Buy; Peter Noel Murray Ph.D.; 2013

3 Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action; Simon Sinek; 2009