Over the past 6 months, there have been quite a few major brands who have faced various crisis situations. Facebook, AMP, Uber, Starbucks and Optus to name a few. Some have been self inflicted as a result of wrong doing or failure in meeting customer expectations. Others have been as a result of something out of their control in which case the company’s reaction can make or break the brand and the company’s reputation.
All companies, regardless of their size, need to be prepared in some way for a crisis situation. The way you handle a crisis should be both pro-active and re-active. The strength of your brand can soften the blow of a crisis and therefore the pro-active strategies are mainly centred around building a strong brand that has a wealth of trust and integrity built into its equity.
Build it and sustain it. Continually bank deposits into your brand’s trust bank.
Once you have articulated your brand story and brand values, it is vital that you focus on constantly delivering on the promise. This is not just a one off development piece, you must deliver on your brand over and over again so that your customers begin to trust your brand. Your strategy should be to actively make deposits into your trust bank – building the trust and faith in your brand and your business.
The more trust you have built up for your brand, the better placed you will be to recover from a crisis.
Example – Apple
Apple’s brand promise is focused on seamless design and simplicity. It is not so much focused on cutting edge technology, but more on humanising that technology and injecting humanity into design. They deliver on this promise, not only via their product design, but through their branding, their end to end customer experience – from the brand messaging, to the instore experience. From a consumer perspective, they continue to deliver on their promise over and over again – therefore they are perceived as a deeply trustworthy brand.
Make sure your team hold the same values as your brand.
Your brand values should form the basis of your organizational values. These values should be communicated to the team upon induction and lived through the team culture on a day to day basis. If the entire organization is on the same page, they are more likely to make the right decision if they are faced with a crisis.
If your culture does not match your customer facing brand, you will be at risk that the reaction to a crisis will be at odds with your brand’s position. If your internal culture marries with your brand values, your organisation is much more likely to have the appropriate reaction to a crisis.
Virgin demonstrates perfectly the intrinsic link companies should make between their corporate and employer brands – the two are one and the same.
As consumers, our brand expectations of Virgin are high, and all of the experience is delivered through the employees, so it is vital that the employees hold the same values so they treat customers appropriately and deliver on customer expectations.
With over 71,000 employees, Virgin has built its brand by aligning the customer experience and brand values with its employee experience and culture.
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” Richard Branson.
Depending on the level of damage and the size of the crisis, taking ownership of the issue publicly is often the first best move by an organisation. Taking responsibility and admitting the error can often start the process of mending the situation with your customers.
A sincere apology can go a long way with repairing the damage to your brand. But more than this, action that visibly demonstrates that you are dedicated to ensuring this never happens again, and that you are taking steps to repair the damage to your client’s experience.
Example: Triple M
Triple M reacted within minutes to the indecent comments made on-air by Barry Hall, he was removed from the broadcast and dropped by the Southern Cross Austereo owned network. Triple M’s immediate and strong actions sent a clear message that this behaviour is not in line with their values. Given this is not the first time the brand has been associated with innapropriate ‘boys club’ discussions on air – the speedy acknowledgement and reaction sent a very clear message.
Perhaps a story with a less satisfying result is Optus’s coverage of the World Cup.
With their recent World Cup coverage failure, Optus procrastinated on how to respond for a few days, while it tried to address the technical issues. First, they passed the rights of the football coverage to SBS for the remaining games and secondly they offered free streaming of Optus Sports to the end of August. Unfortunately, for the soccer loving Aussies – especially those who signed up purely for the World Cup coverage – this reaction was too little too late.
“In Australia it really is like a religion and I think that is why we are seeing some of the outrage we are at the moment,” SBS boss Michael Ebeid told RN Breakfast.
Instead of spending money on apology ads, that money may have been better spent providing loyal Optus customers with extended months of free streaming, which is a tactic employed by Telstra in the past when confronted with outages.
You can’t change what has happened in the past, however you can stay focused on the present and future. Bring forward the positive things your organisation is doing – whether it be via content marketing, social media or paid advertising. Use this to deliver a positive message and rebuild your organisation’s public image. Be aware, that this advice is dependent on how severe the crisis is; you don’t want this to appear as if you are trying to sweep the damage under the carpet.
While the Royal Commission continues to investigate all the wrong doing of the major players in the banking world (including AMP, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank) Westpac is in damage control mode with a number of prongs to the strategy.
At about the same time, Westpac took the decision to upweight their advertising spend Westpac’s Rescue Helicopter service, showcasing their community focus – reigniting their brand promise of helping in the moments that matter. This may have been planned proactively or a coincidence, regardless, it will remain to be seen if this strategy can soften the blow of the banking scandal – consumer trust in banks has taken a beating over many years, therefore the repair work that needs to be done is huge.
Reputation is something that is hard to build and very easy to lose, particularly in the digital age where information is so accessible and free flowing. Transparency is vital and hiding the truth is not easy.
Responding quickly can be the key to softening the blow of a negative situation, social media chat is often instant and spreads fast – which leaves companies in a situation where they don’t have time to plan out their response. Companies are expected to be open 24/7 for comment or response, therefore you need to ensure your team (everyone from customer service support to your technical team) need to be well-versed in the style, tone and response expectations of the new channels. In other words, it is important to set your story straight and have very clear communication channels to ensure the entire organisation is aware of the way to respond.
Uber’s brand has taken a beating over the past year with a raft of wrong doings – the public has rallied together with #DeleteUber movement resulting in over 200,000 consumers deleting the app from their phones. While the company has released statements, there has been a lack of transparency in terms of what actions they are taking to rectify their issues – from employee treatment to sexual harassment and safety concerns. The public, it appears, do not feel convinced that they can trust the brand.
Trust in a brand is built over time. Trust can be severly damaged but can also be recovered. With the right amount of effort and time, it’s often possible for a brand to make a full recovery, but only if all effort was taken to build deep trust beforehand.
Fortunately, not every business crisis will get as much attention as Westpac, Uber, or Optus, however it will always take time to repair a reputation and move on.
If the worst does happen, the best approach is to own up, be transparent and apologise. Identify what went wrong and take demonstrable action to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and, above all else, show your customers that you are continuing to put their needs first.
BrandMatters are experts in building strong and resiliant brands. Contact us for a brand health check.