Talking about crisis management is never a fun topic for most marketers to consider. It is something that can keep someone who works in marketing awake at night. Brand crises can take on many forms. They can be product related, a problem with a celebrity endorser, the way customers are treated, or pretty much anything that will cause negative perceptions of the brand. In a distributed marketing organization, there are significant customer interaction touch points that are unique to this form of organization. If a brand crisis happens within a distributed marketing management type organization, there’s a different type of consumer to brand relationship than with a typical consumer product. For example, in insurance, there’s a greater chance that there’s a local level relationship as opposed to a local level relationship with your toothpaste brand of choice. Attention at both corporate and local levels is something that would need to be addressed in an approach to a brand crisis.
It is our hope that you never find yourself in the midst of one of these crisis situations. However, sooner or later, a brand crisis seems to happen to nearly every brand. Some situations have the potential to be more damaging to the brand than others. Therefore, it warrants taking steps to be prepared to deal with these situations when they arise. I would recommend that most brands have a comprehensive policy and procedure guide for situations like this. It is best to ponder them during calm periods of time rather than trying to address something extemporaneously during the heat of the moment. A distributed marketing management software solution provides tools that marketers in distributed marketing organizations can use to effectively optimize, distribute and manage content releases during this time, easing the brand crisis response process.
The first step is to acknowledge the existence of a problem. There’s really no way to correctly address a problem without acknowledging it. Once that happens, the rest of the process becomes easier. This seems like such simplistic advice, but there are times where this step isn’t completed quickly enough. And as I’ve been saying in some recent posts, the speed of the brand management world has picked up.
The next step is choosing a swift and decisive course of action. There has to be some sort of response to a problem. How will the brand address a perceived wrongdoing? A great example of this was Johnson & Johnson’s handling of the early 1980s cyanide incident. Today, it is still often cited as the gold standard in crisis management. In 1982, several people died after taking Tylenol capsules laced with a deadly poison called cyanide. In response to this situation, Johnson & Johnson pulled all Tylenol capsules from the market, which was an expensive undertaking. They developed new tamper resistant bottles to prevent the originally manufactured product from being negatively altered. It was not easy for Johnson & Johnson to do what they did. However, by doing what they did, they were able to rehabilitate the image of brand in people’s minds. They were responsible and aimed to fix a problem associated with the Tylenol brand, one of the company’s most well known brands. It was an incident that helped consumers to trust Johnson & Johnson again.
Within a couple of years, Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol brand was performing well. The company’s action saved the brand. Had the crisis not been handled in the way that it was, it is possible that Tylenol could have disappeared from the market entirely. In turn, that would have negatively affected Johnson & Johnson for many years. But here we are today, 31 years later, and Tylenol is still an important brand in the brand portfolio of Johnson & Johnson.
Not all crises are life and death situations, like the Johnson & Johnson cyanide incident. But once the course of action has been determined, what is equally as important is the means in which it is communicated. Sincerity is one of the best traits to display. In the ideal scenario, a brand should say that they are truly sorry for a transgression, lay out plans addressing the current issue and detail how this issue will not recur in the future. Once this communication orientation has been established, the means of communication comes into play.
A brand needs to disseminate the crisis management communication wherever their target consumer is. Quite often, with the explosion of online media channels available, the consumer will be online, and often online via a mobile device. A good example about how to execute a multi-channel brand crisis communication strategy comes from LinkedIn. In June 2012, the site was hacked and passwords were compromised. In social media, safety and security are important attributes. LinkedIn communicated well in social media, keeping those interested informed on their Twitter page and via their blog. Emails were also sent out to affected parties. Looking back on the brand crisis nine months later, it is clear that the incident did not have severe long term consequences. Last week, LinkedIn’s stock closed at an all time high, and it has performed well in the stock market relative to other social media sites that have gone public.
Circulating a message via email, social and a company website are standard procedures in this multi-channel environment. Time is of the essence as well, as the sooner the response to the crisis, usually the better. In distributed marketing organizations, local level marketers might start to feel the heat before corporate, and attention to procedures to balance the corporate-local dynamic is something that each distributed marketing organization will need to address. The best thing that can be done from this standpoint is to develop trust. There’s a fine line to walk between reacting hurriedly and inappropriate, and waiting too long to address a situation. In certain situations, there might even be media involvement, and that would depend upon a multitude of factors. The style of communication and the swift & decisive action, both in the form of a brand initiated action to address a perceived wrong and in the means of conveying the message in the social media space are both integral in successfully navigating a brand crisis.