In Perspective: When the going gets tough

In the 1950s and ’60s, when bigger meant better in American consumer culture, Volkswagen built its brand with ads that poked gentle fun at its diminutive vehicles.

In the 1950s and ’60s, when bigger meant better in American consumer culture, Volkswagen built its brand with ads that poked gentle fun at its diminutive vehicles. VW and its flagship brand Beetle became a rage all over. Following recent revelations that the company rigged emissions tests for millions of its diesel engines, Volkswagen will truly need to earn back the trust the iconic brand had established over decades. But the group has not neglected to address the trust factor for its brand.

Without an effective crisis management strategy, the hard-earned image of a brand can haemorrhage when a crisis strikes—whether it’s infestation of unhealthy ingredients, or being unethical, or even the outbreak of a fire. Repairing a damaged image is essential to your survival, but it’s not going to be easy. Just ask BP, Toyota, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, or closer home, Nestlé, Cadbury’s or any other brand that has suffered a PR disaster in recent years.

Speed and an integrated approach

Communicating early and often is the best strategy for mitigating a brand crisis. It is a proven fact that 96% of customers who have complained about your product/service will do business with you again (and even refer others to your brand) if they feel you acted quickly to resolve a problem. Sales of Cadbury’s products in India now, that suffered a huge brand credibility loss almost a decade ago, attest to this.

Social has its own language

A dissatisfied customer will tell an average of 9-15 people about his or her experience with a brand. Now with digital and social media, this number can grow exponentially. More than ever, digital and social media is shrinking the gap between ‘crisis break’ and customer perception of a brand. For this dynamic space there are some specific steps to take, beginning with setting up an ongoing listening mechanism. Not everyone in the organisation understands the critical role that social media plays in reputation management, especially during a crisis. It is important, therefore, to get organisational buy-in for social media—get everyone to speak the language, get the guidelines in place, establish the protocol for managing social media when crisis hits. Also, get people with influence on your side, so that there are people other than you talking about the steps you are taking.

Move on and prove yourself anew

Most importantly, after a crisis, a company has to exceed customer expectations. After Martha Stewart was released from prison for lying to the government about a stock sale, she rebuilt her image by getting busy and being better than ever. That meant landing several new merchandise deals, designing new homes, and writing a book, amongst other things. She moved on.

At some point, you have to just move forward and make your company better than ever. If you can consistently exceed expectations going forward, you can eventually put all the crisis damage behind you and restore your brand’s reputation.

By Prema Sagar

The author is vice chairman, Burson-Marsteller, Asia Pacific & principal/founder, Genesis Burson Marsteller. Views are personal

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