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What to Do When Your Brand Goes Up in Smoke

Last year, reports of fires and explosions led to a massive recall of the Galaxy Note 7, making a few customers look at their cell phones with wary eyes.

smoke_blogThis is more than a big deal for Samsung, a company that has tried to build a brand built on quality and trust:
“Samsung has built a brand based on quality, and all products used in consumers’ homes require a level of trust. The company has taken a hit to its image for both quality and trustworthiness.” Globe and Mail

They did what any company would do, they issued a recall and tried to fix the damage as fast as they could by issuing replacement phones—and then came nightmare number two.

The phones weren’t fixed. Customers started reporting that lithium batteries in the new phones went up in flames, and Samsung had to kill the Samsung Note 7 completely. It really doesn’t get much worse than that:
“This is a calamity,” said Srinivas Reddy, director at the Center for Marketing Excellence at Singapore Management University told Bloomberg. “The threat for Samsung is how soon they can get back. If they don’t get back soon, it provides a vacuum for others to creep in.”

Brand disasters like this can happen to anyone, from a small scale to a larger one like Samsung’s phone disaster.

Here are five steps you can take to repair the damage when your brand goes up in smoke.

Step 1: Listen and be a part of the conversation.
The first and most important step to reputation management is to listen and be part of the conversation. If your customers don’t feel like you’re taking steps to right any wrongs you may have made, their trust in you and your products will plummet quickly.

The Gap and Comcast are two victims of such customer service blunders—simply because they weren’t prepared to handle customer service through popular channels like social media.

Use social media to listen and respond quickly to customer service concerns. Have your finger on the pulse of the issue at hand before it grows to the point where it’s out of your control. Even responding with a something like a simple link to the correct website page is helpful—and shows your customers you take them seriously.

Step 2: Establish a crisis management team.
When the going gets really rough, you need a team in place to handle the damage. In cases like the Samsung disaster, digital chatter around the issue soon gets out of control, and can become something that can outgrow the bandwidth of your customer service team.

Consider forming a team from your public relations (PR), human relations (HR), legal and marketing teams. Appoint a spokesperson from each department to handle situations where your brand’s reputation could be at stake.

This doesn’t necessary have to be a single team dedicated only to brand reputation management, but having a plan in place developed by key stakeholders in your organization before disaster strikes will help you respond in a timely manner.

Step 3: Let customers know when the problem will be fixed, honestly.
The biggest mistake that Samsung made was jumping the gun on telling customers and the media that the problem with the Galaxy Note 7 was fixed—when it clearly wasn’t.

If you have a small team, and don’t have enough bandwidth to stand on call and respond to customers in real-time, set expectations on when they can expect to hear from you, and when they can realistically expect their problem to be resolved.

The most important part of this tactic – you need to be able to stick to your timeline. Worst case scenario, you can lose your credibility when a second problem backfires (in the case of the Galaxy Note 7— literally).

Step 4: Have a plan to talk to the media, and a back-up plan if their coverage is negative.
After you’ve addressed your customers directly, you should make plans to structure a conversation with the media — especially if they’re already contributing to the negative image of your brand.

If they’re not interested, become the media yourself by aggressively publishing new content about your company. Include reviews and testimonials to regain control of how potential customers view your brand in search engines.

Step 5: Do something positive to put yourself back in the positive spotlight.
When you’ve done all you can do to mitigate the damage done to your brand from your misstep, start building a plan to bring the media’s attention to a more positive story about your brand—something valuable and trustworthy for your audience.

Consider participating in community events, linking your next product release to a social cause or mission, or make a big donation. Highlight any positive project for your customers to combat the negative image they’ve been seeing and hearing.

Bonus Step: Don’t be afraid to seek outside assistance if it gets really bad.
In some cases, your business team might just be too small to handle a major brand reputation disaster on their own. In these cases, consider bringing in outside help to build or repair your brand reputation when needed.

Start with your executives — having an expert handle the persona of your executives can go a long way in helping your audience reconnect with your brand on a personal level, and bring your human story to the forefront.

The bottom line — bad brand impressions stick. Dragging your feet or not following through on your word can do horrible damage to a brand. Getting ahead of the game could help save you in the future from any unseen problems.

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