• Meriem Belhiba

3 Brands you can learn from to manage your marketing crisis

All businesses are facing hard times to adjust to the current crisis. Many are still processing what happened in the world, while others are still in denial. For all small businesses feeling it's too much to deal with, we compiled a list of 3 brands that can serve as a source of inspiration and insight on how to manage your marketing crisis effectively.

Southwest Airlines: one badly-managed crisis equals one well-managed crisis

With a rich record of crisis, Southwest Airlines is your go-for brand when it comes to managing a crisis. In the summer of 2016, the brand was cracked by a major technology failure, leading to complete canceled flight. 12 hours was the nightmare span.

But, the next 4 days were not enough to clear the mess. Even Though, the airlines indulged in mass communication over Facebook and Twitter. They admitted their fault, apologized and kept their audience informed by posting regular updates.

The influx of messages seemed to overwhelm the social media team amounting to tons of unchecked messages and comments and a complete absence on other social media channels like Instagram.

If you want to learn how to manage a crisis, keep in mind your audience is everywhere. You can’t communicate on certain social media networks neglecting others because you’re too busy. If the load you’re handling is too much for your team, opt for team backup and hire extra community managers to shoulder some tasks effectively.

On April 17, 2018, Southwest Airlines was struck by the biggest crisis in their 51-year history, the mother of airline crisis: aviation accidents. It was a flight from New York to Dallas when the plane engine ruptured causing the death of a woman aboard. To put more on their plates, passengers had videos and photos posted everywhere. And, the content went viral causing an overwhelming social media talking.

This time Southwest Airlines showed more effectiveness and clear vision. They are to assume this mishap and do what it takes to survive and restore its damaged reputation. The response from CEO Gary Kelly was issued quickly on Twitter and Facebook. The statement was put:

“It is with great sadness that I confirm there was a passenger fatality on Flight 1380. This a sad day, and on behalf of the entire Southwest family, I want to extend my deepest sympathies for the family, and the loved ones of our deceased customer. They are our immediate and primary concern, and we will do all that we can to support them during this difficult time and the difficult days ahead.”

Their banners on social media channels and their website pictured a gray broken heart. And, their social media team cut off all the promotions and marketing efforts. Instead, they focused on listening to their e-reputation and acting accordingly. They kept informing customers of all the updates and new measures.

But, in the midst of all the noise, Southwest Airlines revealed to brands and businesses how to win over a crisis. The secret recipe is “showing empathy to your customers”. Without empathy, raw and refined, crisis communication cannot be handled. Your response to a crisis should reveal heartfelt and honest empathy.

Second lesson learnt is the useful and clever use of social media. Southwest Airlines went at lengths to listen to social media users and monitor its reputation. They didn’t content itself with mere social media posting. They were there to see how people talk about the brand and weigh their reactions.

Leclerc: the crisis of chopped steaks

In the end of 2005, Leclerc, French hypermarket chain, witnessed unprecedented crisis: food poisoning due to a lot of chopped steaks sold in their supermarkets. About fifteen children were victims of Escherichia coli bacteria. The media arsenal launched a war against Leclerc and the French got the brand on the spotlight.

The escalated temper of media channels was counterparted by an agile strategic plan and response. The brand established a centre of crisis to investigate throughout the case. Quality responsables, product buyers, market chief, veterinarians and communication managers were all gathered to spot the root of the problem and come out with solid solutions.

Lecrec retrieved all the suspicious products from their supermarkets expeditiously. And, the whole enterprise mobilized its efforts to track the customers who bought the lots.

On the communication side, they assumed their share of the responsibility and revealed honest empathy to the victims. Their communication to media channels and their proactive reaction gained them the trust and loyalty of their customers.

If there is something marketers can learn from this chopped steaks crisis, it will be the importance of empathy compounded with effective actions and solutions. Act and you will have your customer arsenal on your side.

Target: Data Breach Crisis

Target gave communication experts a good case study on what shouldn’t be done while communicating a crisis. On December 19, 2013, the company was struck by one of the largest data breaches in retail history. The attack coincided with a hot period of online shopping and exposed the private data of up to 110 million users.

The company took one day before showing up to announce the attack and communicate with their customers. This was seen by many as unprofessional and amateurish for a company that people trust with their personal credit cards data.

To add salt to the wound, the CEO of Target, Gregg Steinhahel, delivered a video speech where he provided customers with watered-down and vague information. Even Though, he apologized and gave some solutions for customers whose personal data was revealed, he kept on positing his brand as the first victim of the attack. He denounced the attack saying:

“We take this crime seriously. It was a crime against Target, our team members, and most importantly, our guests. We’re in this together, and in that spirit, we are extending a 10% discount – the same amount our team members receive – to guests who shop in U.S. stores on Dec. 21 and 22.”

The real victims of the attacks were listed at the end. Communicating with your customers to announce you were not potent enough to avoid data breach is sensitive and should be linguistically spiced and peppered. Syntax and grammar are not merely dulls subjects you hated at school. They are the bridge towards effective crisis management.

Customers were angry as their calls remained unanswered. The brand’s CEO explained this by the “unprecedented call volume”.

The speech lacked empathy and seemed company-centered. The lack of exact information damaged the brand reputation. But, the video was followed by a series of clarification to rectify the scope of damage.

Unfortunately, Target was not prepared for such a crisis and fell prey to major communication mistakes exacerbated by the absence on social media channels. They restricted their communication to their websites turning a blind eye to the discussion fueled on social media.

Fortunately, we have a myriad of case studies to reap lessons from. These brands, and many others, can be a huge source of inspiration for all the brands in these uncertain times.

Be empathetic, omnipresent and honest! May all businesses return healthier after coronavirus confinement and recession.

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