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Ways to Avoid a Brand Crisis and its Mess

Find out how a consumer research survey can help brands avoid a crisis and the mess and complications it causes.

Nov 08, 2022

hat do you think if Robinhood disables your ability to buy GME stocks?

As crazy as it seems or as simplistic as it sounds, I believe a single survey question can profoundly change where Robinhood's path would lead.

One week ago, Robinhood was still the rising star that disrupted the investment banking industry, was on the way to an IPO and that posed a big threat to big boys like Goldman Sachs. But today, their users are cashing out in droves, the company faces a liquidity crisis (although they seem to have solved it temporarily), and they have angry users making comments every other minute on social media.

This reminds all of us marketers of a single, real fact. It takes us YEARS to build a brand, but it could take a single action to destroy it. A brand that we have invested so, so much in.

Robinhood is not alone. There’s Uber & it's notorious founder Travis Kalanick, Theranos & Elizabeth Holmes, WeWork & Adam Neumann, and (one could argue) Donald Trump. There are also those singular mistakes that people generally remember from time to time, like Watson’s 'Blackface' ad, Cadbury’s ‘Salute the Goodness’ ad, SBK's 'One Beautiful Lady' etc. I am not here to count brands’ mistakes, but the core lesson that I am drawing from all these scenarios, is that all of us brand owners could unintentionally incur PR backlash.

Here are a few key dynamics to understand. Every brand could have their moments of crisis, some bigger, some smaller. However, make no mistake; almost all brands will have a crisis.

  • Consumers remember the good things you do. Unfortunately, the bad things are harder to forget compared to the good things. It takes much more effort, money and ideas to make people forget the things we don’t want our brand to be associated with.
  • Brand perception could drive people away, simply because they decide to not support the ideology of the action. Sadly, it has nothing to do with your product, your quality, your service or your people. You could have the best product in the world and people could still be turning away. Consumers could simply be invested in their decision to not buy from you.
  • Rebranding is easier said than done. Especially if the rebranding is necessary due to negative association and not simply for the purpose of repositioning. High number of brands failed to ignite the same traction as before, even after they rebrand.
  • Not all crises can be mitigated, especially in this era of shifting media focus, where the younger generation increasingly uses their money and purchasing decision as a way to vote for their ideology. Things that may seem small to you as a brand owner, could be something consumers hold dearly. Just because you have been the one managing the brand does not mean you know exactly how your consumers think.
  • It's not just about the consumer. Your employees could begin to turn away from their jobs when a crisis happens. In fact, there are instances where employees themselves are whistleblowers who start a crisis. Crisis handling is not just for external parties; it should start from within an organisation.
  • Crises managed poorly brings doom to the business. It might not look like it when the crisis happens. Many don't see it while it’s happening, but hindsight usually reveals that it began the downward spiral of the company that eventually claimed the demise of the company. Years, or perhaps decades, of work is upended.

So, crisis solving isn't fun.

What’s actionable here?

  • Firstly, get a wider stakeholders opinions on the next action that you may be considering that might be controversial. These opinions should never come from just your inner circle. Widen it, include more of your employees, and better yet (brand owners tend to forget one of their most important stakeholders) the customers. Ask them directly about what they think. You’d be surprised at how much your customers would be happy to share with you, if you are willing to listen.
  • Secondly, maintain a consistent communication channel with your stakeholders including a big chunk of your employees, your customers and the public. In times of crisis, you need people to respond to you ASAP, and the only way to do that is to have a consistent communication channel that's built over time so your stakeholders are used to communicating and providing feedback to you. This helps you build a habit internally and with your stakeholders.
  • Thirdly, build a company-wide culture to use less ‘gut feeling 'and opinions that only come from the inner circle to decide on things that would affect customers. Use customers’ opinions instead. I am not saying you should ask your customer what you should build next. However, when you have new ideas, solicit their opinions by helping them to visualise. They can give you early feedback that could save you tons of money, loads of time and most importantly, the cost of making the wrong decision.
  • Fourthly, track how your stakeholders perceive your brand. Proactive measurement is more effective to address any crisis before it blows up to become a real PR crisis.
  • Fifthly, be sensitive and practice stepping into the stakeholder's shoes as a team. Get someone in the team to act as a stakeholder. Let them ask questions without being shot down. Embrace the culture of putting the consumer first.

No brand owner thinks that they would have a crisis. But when they put out a controversial ad, use a name that people associate with differently, answer social media posts in an insensitive way, write a PR release that people react to negatively, launch a new rule to their platform etc ... and they might suddenly get one.

Make sure you are prepared for one.


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