How should you respond when a brand crisis hits?

Ali is an award-winning digital marketer, based in Dubai. His passion for helping people in all aspects of online marketing flows through in the expert industry coverage he provides. In addition, Ali also heads the Digital Services division at IT-Serve, helping local businesses with search and web marketing.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things just go wrong. Normally, you can say, “Sorry!”, and move on. But what happens when a brand makes a mistake?

If the problem is internal, maybe the IT or HR teams can help. But what if an employee posts an offensive message on a brand’s social media account, or a product is recalled? How should a brand handle these public mishaps?

For a brand, simply fixing the issue isn’t enough. The key is to respond publicly and to take action to avoid a potential PR crisis.

You can’t predict when or if a crisis will hit, but you can take 5 steps to be prepared to deal with one if it happens.

The first step is to anticipate

If you start planning your recovery when a crisis hits, it’s already too late. Take time to prepare for every possible scenario that might occur, no matter how unlikely it is.

Identify where your brand might be vulnerable: your site crashing, a product with a faulty part, a social media faux pas, etc. It’s important, to be honest, and identify potential weaknesses.

Once you’ve done that, train employees on how to avoid these potential crises. For instance, ensure that the marketing team knows how to discuss sensitive matters, such as natural disasters or political issues, without causing controversy.

The second step is to plan

In a crisis, timing is everything, so being prepared will help you get in front of the problem before it gets out of hand.

Create “in the case of emergency” press releases and social media statements that can be easily edited for a quick response that still comes off as thoughtful and human.

If your website is central to your business, create a backup landing page in the event your homepage crashes.

Delegate responsibilities ahead of time: Make sure employees – especially your marketing team – know their roles when problems arise. For instance, if there is a recall and a need to handle product returns, appoint someone to set up a hotline.

The third step is to take action

When a crisis hits, don’t delay. Take swift measures to try and de-escalate the problem.

The worst thing you can do is to try and cover up the problem. Acknowledging it publicly will let your target audience see that your brand is not only responsible but also accountable.

Keep your audience updated regularly. This will help you avoid a situation where the public and press speculate and create their own narratives, which might be worse than what actually happened.

Tip: Sometimes, taking action internally isn’t enough. If you see that despite all of your efforts, the crisis isn’t being resolved, or is getting worse, look to hire a PR firm that specializes in brand recovery.

Fourth, remember to communicate.

Reaching out to your audience and explaining the situation is crucial to maintaining a positive public image.

Sending out a press release and publishing it on your website is good, but in reality, your customers and target audience aren’t visiting your corporate website every day.

Using your social media channels will let you have direct and timely conversations with your target audience. But remember, keep it civil – starting a Twitter war with the public is one you can never win. #KeepYourCool

Make sure your messaging stays in line with your brand’s identity. This will communicate to your target audience that the crisis doesn’t reflect your brand’s core values.

Remember: Don’t try to capitalize on the crisis. This isn’t a time for promoting your product or service. If you co-opt the situation for your own benefit, your audience will see your brand as disingenuous, which will make it harder for you to solve the problem.

Lastly, reflect.

Although the problem might have been an isolated incident, you should take the time to see if there are any lurking issues that need to be addressed.

There might be structural problems internally, such as company culture or problems with employees in a certain department. For instance, could your sales team be overpromising to potential customers?

Next, identify where your target audience interacts with your brand the most. Is it online, or on the supermarket shelf? Is it via your representatives, or through daily product use?

Based on these factors, you might be able to identify areas that could be harmful to your brand. These could also include health and safety issues pertaining to your product, or inadequate training for your customer service representatives.

Taking these measures will not only allow you to address and fix the current crisis but will also reduce the chance of these types of crises from happening again.

Once you’ve anticipated, planned, taken action, communicated, and reflected, and the issue has hopefully been resolved, it’s time to start rebuilding trust.

Send out a statement explaining how you solved the problem, learned from it, and implemented procedures to ensure it won’t happen again. You can also invite the media to write reviews about how the crisis was handled.

Third-party endorsements are a great way to regain credibility. Reach out to people who are close to you and your brand (friends, vendors, etc.) and ask them to post supportive reviews.

Offer incentives to your customers, such as freebies or discounts. This will not only win them back but will let them experience first-hand the positive changes you’ve made.

Depending on the scale of the crisis, recovery might take weeks or even months. Be patient. Remember that news changes rapidly, and if you’re transparent and genuine, people will likely give your brand another chance.

Have you ever encountered (or seen) any brand mishaps? I would love to know how you (or that brand) anticipated and resolved it? Please do share your feedback in the comments section.