Your brand screwed up. Now what?

Manage brand crisis
Oct 20 2016

At some point in your career, you will likely face the challenge of overcoming a negative situation for your company and a brand crisis. If you are lucky, this will be a relatively minor issue, one that you are able to overcome with limited long-term impact on your brand. But if you are a company like Yahoo or Wells Fargo, you could face a PR crisis on which rests much of your brand’s image and reputation.

In the case of Yahoo, a number of issues aside from Verizon’s pending acquisition of its core operations dented its image. A few months ago, it disclosed a major hack, with 500 million compromised user accounts. With the increase in security issues, that could almost be forgivable if addressed honestly and properly, with a clear plan of how the company is addressing the matter.

But Yahoo’s big data breach was just the start. Not discovering it in a timely manner was another problem. (The hack occurred in 2014 but was not detected until this year.) Now add on the revelation earlier this month that Yahoo created code enabling the US government to scan its users’ emails, raising serious privacy and ethical concerns that Yahoo did not challenge. Perhaps worst of all was management’s secrecy of these issues, surfacing questions of their integrity.

Brand Power

Imagine if a brand like Apple or Google encountered a similar security breach. Those brands enjoy not only a high level of brand affinity, but their customers have a high degree of dependence on their products and services. With proper management, genuine apologies, ongoing communications as to how they would fix the issue, and a clear commitment to ensuring it could never happen again, strong brands that foster deep client experiences usually rebound. Furthermore, in the case of Apple, it got a boost for its brand when it confirmed their allegiance to its customers’ privacy by fighting back the government’s request to access private iPhone data.

But Yahoo’s brand has been in decline for a while, despite some recent strengthening of its share price. As of 2013, it fell out of Interbrand’s annual rankings of the top 100 global brands based on brand value. Historically, they have had a number of questionable business decisions and missed opportunities. (Remember when they turned down the chance to buy Google, for cheap?) They also have been losing affinity for their core internet services, facing competitive pressure from other providers such as Google. Even now, as they look to sell their operations and technology assets to Verizon, they seem to be struggling with their identity and raison d’être.

Lessons Yahoo Teaches

While Yahoo undoubtedly has strong underlying business assets, its brand has suffered. But if it had followed a more robust communications plan, this may not have been the case.

Brand Triage:
  1. Recognize the issue and what your customers’ and stakeholders’ concerns will be. Document them. Apply them.
  2. Admit fault. There might be reasons or even excuses for what happened, but ultimately your company is responsible for the experience you deliver to your customers. Now more than ever, it is important to OWN IT.
  3. Get in front of the issue. If it’s gonna come out anyway, then don’t delay. Control how the problem is communicated before someone else gets the word out for you. How and from whom your audience hears about issues is important.
  4. Develop a short- and long-term communications plan, with frequent customer touchpoints to let them know that you are committed to resolving the issue and coming out stronger. Inform them of your continued along the steps you are taking. Openness is important.
  5. Follow-up with customers. Get their feedback. Reassess what they still value in your brand. Update your positioning to reinforce your strengths while you address your current weakness.
  6. Learn from others. Unfortunately there are plenty of case studies of brand crises, such as BP who is still in the long process of turning their brand reputation around following 2010’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. What was or wasn’t effective, and what can apply to your situation?
  7. Get help. You are facing a complex matter, one that might even make or break your company. A team of experienced PR professionals can help you develop a communications plan to manage your issue as effectively as possible.

Perhaps the most important lesson here is persistence. Getting your brand reputation back on track takes time, commitment and most of all, sincerity. If you face the issues, confirm your strengths, keep connected to your customer base and follow-through, your brand might even come out stronger than ever.

Your thoughts? Need help?

What brand do you feel has successfully come out ahead after a crisis? Share your perspective below. And do contact Paragon if you are facing your own brand crisis. We can help.

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