Part 2: After a crisis – getting your brand back on track

Last week we looked at the challenges brands face today when forced to rebuild after a crisis. This week, I want to delve into some of the approaches that companies can take to overcome these challenges.

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Getting back on track

A first step in rebuilding your brand is to understand and assess the full impact of the crisis. Is the crisis product- or personality-specific, or does it impact the brand as a whole? Is it security-related? How you respond depends on your answers to questions like these.

Perhaps the issue lies with a defective or under-performing product. (Let’s assume that the defect is not in some way life-threating). In this situation, a more targeted response may be appropriate: recall the defective product, apologize and reimburse customers swiftly. Maintain customer confidence with a series of follow-up actions that demonstrate that you are being proactive and can ensure that this situation won’t happen again.

In the case of a spokesperson with a tendency to go off message – a case in point being the founder of lifestyle brand, Lululemon – don’t hesitate to remove that person from a press-facing role. Quick, decisive action can be the best way to inspire confidence and get you back on track.

However, in situations where a crisis is the result of a financial irregularity or a product or action that has put people at risk, then a comprehensive, long-term crisis communications strategy needs to be put into full effect – and quickly.  

Make customer care your number one priority

The one thing that all companies can do to get back on track is to refocus their core efforts on customer care. When you make a mistake, own it, fix it and make it right. Trust is the foundation of every customer relationship. If a customer gets the sense they are being misled or ignored, it will be very hard to regain their faith.

After a crisis, everyone wants to know someone is taking charge of the situation. When things go wrong, there needs to be a central point of authority that becomes the public figurehead for the brand’s period of rehabilitation. When people are concerned they do not seek reassurance by committee. The most common human response is to gravitate towards a single voice of leadership. When Starbucks’ Race Together campaign prompted a severe backlash on social media, CEO Howard Schultz was front and center in explaining the company’s decision, acknowledging the failure and outlining his commitment to moving forward. That’s exactly the right way to respond.  

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Incorporate customer feedback into all subsequent campaigns

At the heart of a successful comeback is the customer’s voice. While you may be concerned about a security issue, a product recall or some other crisis, keep the customer front of mind at all times. Get customer counsel or set up a customer advisory board to ensure that you are taking the right actions to rehabilitate your brand. Use net promoter scores (NPS) to get feedback from your customers and make corrections where you need to take action.  Almost every major brand you can think of has been through some kind of crisis situation – those that survived, rebounded and in some cases thrived did so because they used the situation to reposition themselves as listening to customers and taking customer feedback to heart. Coca-Cola famously recovered from its poorly-received recipe change in 1985 by reverting to the original formulation within three months.

Seek out third-party endorsements

An endorsement by an independent third party can go a long way in rehabilitating a battered brand. Whether it is an independent health body giving a seal of approval to a restaurant chain’s food-handling processes, a trusted media outlet or analyst publishing a favorable report, or a regulator acknowledging your compliance with the law, people respond to impartial validation. It is important to have cultivated relationships with industry thought-leaders and influencers, so that after a crisis you can put your brand forward to be independently audited and assessed. It will speak volumes to customers.

Give back

Finally, reassess your community outreach and social innovation initiatives. While it is important not to appear opportunistic – savvy social media commentators will quickly pick up on any outreach which appears disingenuous or too convenient –  the aftermath of a crisis is a good time to reinvest in projects which benefit the communities in which you operate. Whether it’s reflected in your charitable giving, your exemplary track record on employee relations or your long-term support of environmental issues, the public tends to be more forgiving of brands they perceive as ultimately good corporate citizens.

Everybody loves a good comeback story, but in today’s super-charged world of always-on media and endless choice, the stakes are higher and the comeback tougher to achieve. However, most companies can and do turn the corner if they apply the principles outlined above and demonstrate they have changed course for the better.