Knowing how to effectively handle crisis situations is critical if a company is to survive a PR nightmare. Most brands think they know what to do, but do they know what not to do? Here are the top 7 things brands should not do in a crisis.
In business, one thing is always certain – a crisis will happen. Whether in the form of a complaint, defective product, or something completely out of a company’s hands. It isn’t a matter of if but when. And when it hits, the worse thing a brand can do is our first item . . .
1. Ignore it
Nothing spells “big mistake” like ignoring the opportunity to respond to a crisis. Cracker Barrel learned this valuable lesson the hard way. In 2017, after letting an employee go, the company was bombarded with emails and posts to its corporate Facebook page, demanding an explanation.
The company refused to respond and the public retaliated, even creating a petition to hire the woman back.
A Quid textual analysis from 2017 shows 26% of the conversation about Cracker Barrel revolved around “Brad’s Wife.” And the social backlash continued well into the early months of 2018, creating a PR storm for the company. One that certainly flavored how folks felt about its brand.
While the company was within its rights to stay silent, it is never wise to ignore the public. The masses are ruthless and can make or break a brand. Saying something is always better than saying nothing. Maybe the months got away from them and by the time they realized it wasn’t going away, it was too late to attempt anything. This is why a “wait and see” approach is equally awful.
2. Wait and see
When facing a crisis, reacting quickly is of the essence. When Proctor and Gamble released the “We Believe” ad for Gillette, the company was barraged with a torrent of negative consumer sentiment, as men and women alike chastised the brand for its “toxic masculinity” message.
Proctor and Gamble blamed an $8 million decrease in sales, in part, on their controversial ad. By not addressing the crisis early enough, the company was forced to do a serious about face to save customers.
Brands that want to survive cannot risk riding out a potential crisis. Brands need real-time monitoring and alerts to spikes in mentions or sentiment fluctuations, so they can respond with equal agility. This ability can save companies not only from PR disasters, but also significant profit loss. Time is not your side when consumers attack.
The biggest mistake companies quick on the draw make though is just that – they fire off rapid replies, multiple times.
3. Respond multiple times
In April 2017, Pepsi shared a new ad campaign starring Kendall Jenner that went immediately viral for all the wrong reasons. Some even labeled it the “worst ad ever” as it was seemingly tone deaf as they appeared to be making light of a serious issue.
And its 1.6 million views on YouTube seemed to agree with that assessment:
The brand initially defended it as “a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey.”
Their second statement, which should have been their first, was much better: “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize.”
In a crisis, brands must be able to stand firm in their message to consumers or risk losing customer trust and business. Having accurate, real-time intel is paramount to forming a response, as companies only get one shot. And what a wasted opportunity if a brand posts the perfect response and few, if any, of their target audience sees it!
4. Respond on the wrong platform
In a PR emergency, it is important for brands to understand how and where consumers are talking. If conversation is happening on Twitter about brand XYZ, that company needs to be there, monitoring responses and interacting as needed. If it’s on Facebook – be there. Posting on the company website where no one will see it is useless.
Understanding the source of the conversation is an important piece of your crisis communications puzzle.
Creating a Source Analysis Dashboard is a wise first step – and one to monitor as the crisis evolves.
It helps brands compare key metrics, including post/mention volume and those all-important positives and negatives across source types:
Even then, some brands miss the point.
5. Miss the point
Brands require clear perspective on what consumers are talking about and how to best address those needs. Examining consumer and market intelligence around Covid-19, brands can see why consumers are worried and panicking, rather than making dangerous assumptions.
And when faced with a crisis, assumptions are the enemy.
When Sephora was faced with a racially charged incident, it immediately responded with an apology and closed down its operations for a couple of hours to have everyone on staff participate in mandatory inclusion and diversity training.
Great job, Sephora? Not so fast. The company came forward to insist that is “training was a preplanned initiative that has nothing to do with the SZA incident.”
They completely missed the point, as well as a big opportunity for the brand. It’s akin to blaming the victim reactions, which are also prevalent – and entirely ill advised.
6. Blame the victim/those angry at you
Brands will always face mixed consumer sentiment – as the phrase, “you can’t please everyone,” applies. However, when “being right” becomes more important than “being compassionate,” a company risks more than just a potential crisis.
A case in point is Peloton’s Christmas ad from 2019. Consumer backlash over what appeared to be a “sexist” commercial led Peloton to announce a very less-than-heartfelt “sorry you felt offended” message. According to Forbes, consumers did not buy the apology and the stock dipped more than 10.5% within 48 hours.
Even when companies have the best of intentions, consumer sentiment can snowball into an out of control blizzard. If a brand is not willing to take a sincere “sorry we did something wrong” approach, then it needs to seriously contemplate the stance it is taking and the possible outcome it will inevitably face.
7. Fail to learn from the past
Brands need to be able to self-reflect and apply lessons learned to future marketing strategies. Smart brands understand the power of social media– celebrities, politicians, and influencers can easily persuade consumers.
The ability to predict and garner influencer and shift detractor sentiment (or at least get ahead of it) is key to a company’s long-term success.
With NetBase Quid, companies can create lists of potential influencers/detractors and key opinion leaders, analyze and track sentiment behaviors, and predict the likely success of future strategic efforts. And, importantly, be prepared with benchmarks around “what’s normal” to compare any blips in the radar against.
Crises are inevitable; being proactive instead of reactive is what separates industry leaders from those struggling to survive. Reach out, and we’ll show you how to harness consumer and market intelligence to have a framework in place ahead of that next crisis – and a game plan to keep your brand moving forward regardless of what’s happening around it.