No business is safe from a branding mistake. No matter how small or big they may be, every business is guilty of a misstep from time-to-time. However, the way you react to these mistakes is what makes all the difference.
The American diner Denny’s offers a great example of the correct way to bounce back from a scandal. In 1994, a class-action lawsuit was issued for racial discrimination and Denny’s was required to fork over $54 million. This kind of mistake could have been the end of this classic American brand—but instead it opened up the doors for a rebrand. A new CEO was brought onboard and Denny’s quickly issued an ad campaign targeted at minorities apologizing for their past mistakes. All employees received training in regards to stopping racial discrimination, and by 2013, Denny’s was ranked in the top ten best companies for ethnic minorities.
On the other hand, mishandling a PR crisis can also destroy your brand. In the 1980s, the family owned Ratners Group jewelry business was thriving. Their low price point helped build brand recognition, but unfortunately, the CEO made an off-hand comment during a dinner party stating that the jewelry was so cheap because the pieces were “total crap.” This statement went public and the company lost millions of dollars almost instantly and soon shut its doors for good.
A brand mistake can either mean certain death or it can be an opportunity for reflection and positive change. Here are some strategies for a better way to approach even the most embarrassing of brand missteps without ruining your business’s reputation in the process.
Don’t fear negative feedback
Most businesses like to ignore the negative reviews that inevitably get posted online during a time of crisis. Many even try to suppress or erase poor reviews in an attempt to save their brand reputation. But these approaches can actually harm your brand even more because it shows that your business has no interest in customers’ opinions.
Negative reviews can also be extremely helpful for identifying recurring problems that are frustrating customers. By reading and managing customer reviews properly, your PR team can get a better idea of the meaning behind customer sentiment. It also provides the perfect opportunity to see what you can learn, ask for suggestions for solutions, and respond to a customer with an apology, explanation, and restitution.
The key to getting meaningful feedback is to ask customers enough questions to prompt more details behind their reviews. For instance, Trustpilot’s reviews ask for specific details on various aspects of their product, such as the features, value for the price, and customer support. Reviewers are also asked to list both the pros and cons along with a summary of their experience, which provides better details of that person’s sentiment.
Be sincere and actionable with apologies
Today, most businesses turn to social media as a platform for public apologies. Although this is a great way to reach a lot of customers at one time, just sending out a Tweet or Facebook post with little to no real remorse is by no means a solution.
Instead, brands should reach out in a more meaningful manner by acknowledging your mistakes and explaining how you are going to change it. Be actionable by laying out your business’s plan to make changes and ensure that the problem will be resolved.
Starbucks was recently involved with a scandal regarding racial discrimination after a viral video was posted of two African-American customers being arrested for simply using the bathroom before buying anything at the coffee shop. Of course, this made waves among consumers who called for strikes against the brand. However, Starbuck’s response turned the situation around entirely. They issued an immediate heart-felt apology addressing the issue head-on. They also shared that all Starbucks stores would be shut down for a day of racial bias training with all employees. This resonated well with many customers because Starbucks made the necessary changes, rather than simply making empty promises.
Constantly monitor new approaches
The key to making the most of your business’s mistakes is using them to fuel action and identify where changes need to be made. However, just because you come up with new strategies doesn’t mean that it will solve the heart of the issue or be the correct approach.
Just as marketing teams test out new ads and monitor the results during a major campaign, your PR team should closely observe any changes that occur to see if you are taking the correct approach. Stay on top of your consumer sentiment metrics as you introduce changes to make sure that you are fixing things properly – public sentiment is something that can change on a dime.
Customer sentiment is typically determined through feedback. NLP (natural language processing) combined with media monitoring systems can be useful for understanding what customers and other media outlets are saying about your brand during this time. NLP uses machine learning technology to categorize feedback based on the overall sentiment, whether it be positive, negative, or indifferent. Other metrics that your PR team should keep a close eye on are customer retention and conversion rates, as these will obviously be affected and should hopefully improve once proper action is taken.
Mistakes happen, and sometimes they are totally out of our control. However, in both life and business, it matters more how we react and change after a mistake is made. Your business will have its missteps along the way, but by using these times to truly learn and change, you can rest assured that your brand’s reputation can actually improve and create meaningful connections with customers.