Brand reputation and the perils of downtime

Graham Moore, e-retail specialist at Zeus Technology, discusses why avoiding downtime is crucial to avoiding negative brand damage and outlines what marketers can do to address the issue.

Graham Moore
Graham Moore

It still surprises me how many brands experience downtime due to peaks in web traffic, especially since marketers are often well aware of the seasonal peaks in traffic their websites receive. Busy shopping periods such as Christmas time or major sporting events such as the World Cup always lead to a surge in online activity for all manner of brands, so there’s often no excuse for a lack of preparation.

Given the huge damage to brand reputation downtime can cause, it’s crucial all marketers ensure avoiding downtime is front of mind when planning online marketing activity. There is nothing worse than planning the perfect promotion and generating a surge in online interest that crashes the site because no-one warned IT.

Greater access to the Internet at home, combined with rising adoption of mobile devices such as the smartphone and tablet PCs, mean consumers are engaging with brands online more than ever. As such, ensuring consumers receive excellent levels of service online are hugely important.

This is especially so since in many cases the only engagement a consumer has with a brand is online. Downtime, even for a matter of minutes, can be hugely frustrating and cause long-term damage to the relationship a brand has with a consumer, so avoiding it all costs must be a top priority.

Customer loyalty in the online world is more fickle than on the high street and consumers won’t think twice about going to a competitor if a site runs slowly or the mobile app they’re trying to access won’t load.

Even if a consumer has been browsing a site for considerable amount of time, they are still likely to abandon it if the site starts running slowly, particularly when it comes to the check-out stage. What’s more, given the huge number of people now active on social networking sites such as Twitter, it doesn’t take long for news to spread that a brand is suffering from downtime.

While there’s no accounting for ’freak’ surges in web traffic, it’s safe to say that most peaks in traffic can be planned for. All marketers know there are seasonal peaks in demand during a year and understand the impact that major events can have on traffic levels. Take the World Cup for example. Heineken, one of the official sponsors of the competition has so far experienced a 75 per cent increase in searches for its brand in the UK. That’s a huge surge in traffic and something that could easily cause web services to fail if no consideration was given to the importance of web traffic management.

Even those brands not officially associated with the competition have enjoyed high levels of web traffic. According to Experian Hitwise, one in every 150 search terms typed into a search engine in the UK relates to the World Cup. As such, all manner of brands whether they be from the travel or beverage sectors have enjoyed an increase in visitor numbers, highlighting the importance of considering how external events can impact consumer demand online.

As part of the planning process, marketers must also ensure they are in regular contact with their IT colleagues. IT and marketing teams have traditionally worked in silos, each sticking to their own area of expertise. Today, that approach no longer works given the importance of maintaining a positive brand reputation online and the need for technology to make this happen.

All too often marketing teams launch online promotions without talking to their colleagues in IT, failing to alert them about a potential increase in traffic. The result is that sites crash under the weight of demand, leaving customers frustrated because they are not able to access the information they need and buy online. In many instances, marketing teams aren’t even aware whether their organisation has a web traffic management solution in place, so keeping in constant touch with IT colleagues is vital.

Customer loyalty online is weaker than on the high street but consumer expectations about the level of service they expect is higher. Although a huge flash flood of visitors to a website is desirable for any brand, if that flood results in downtime, the negative consequences can be far reaching and long-lasting. Consumers today want brands to be online and available 24/7.

Downtime, no matter how long it lasts for, is unacceptable. Although marketers are aware of this and the impact downtime has on brand reputation, most need to take greater responsibility for ensuring uptime is made a major priority. A combination of careful planning and consistent communication about activities and events that may lead to peaks in traffic is now mission-critical if brands are to remain online at all times.

Given the pressure to convert browsers into buyers and build long-term relationships with consumers, no brand can afford to ignore this issue any longer.