Facebook’s recent announcement that it is hiring 3,000 people to review content for Fake News prompted us to think about what this mean for brands. It’s hard being a brand today. Brands have always faced publicity crises and other issues, but today the environment is different. Ferocity of customer reaction, broad public discussions, the speed with which dissent spreads and the inability of brands to control the message can make a marketer’s head spin. Marketers face issues today that didn’t even exist 5-6 years ago:
- Facebook/Google can place brands next to objectionable content.
- Customers can film your failures (e.g., airlines and other rude customer service) and post them in real time.
- Social media amplifies issues so many can pile on – even though the entire story may not be presented.
- Customers are less polite – social media comments are becoming more negative, with no ability to filter.
Brands are getting sucked down a vortex, whether they want to or not, and no one is immune. Most small and mid-sized brands and even larger brands don’t have the tools or frameworks to respond. Brands have demonstrated that they can’t respond quickly enough and, more importantly, they don’t properly consider how their response might impact the brand in the minds of their customers.
Recent Brand Melt Downs
Often brand crises are self-inflicted and sometimes brands stumble into them. Here are some recent nightmares:
- The recent United Airlines passenger video where a passenger was dragged off a plane lost the CEO his Chairmanship after he immediately supported employees before understanding the context. The result: decline in passengers and renewed focus after the “United Breaks Guitars” fiasco of 10 years ago.
- Wells Fargo employees opened millions of fake accounts. The last two quarters were horrible for Wells Fargo: the CEO, other executives and many employees were fired, board members stepped down, huge fines were paid to the government and restitution to consumers. The result: reduced brand credibility and believability, and slow account growth.
- Uber’s CEO’s consistently poor behavior toward employees and drivers, and combative nature toward local governments has negatively impacted brand reputation, opened the door for other competitors and finally forced the company to begin searching for a COO.
These were three examples of self-inflicted wounds and bad public relations responses without thinking about the long term health of the brand.
Brands also must proactively respond to external circumstances that might negatively impact their customer’s perception of the brand. For example:
- Kellogg’s pulled their digital advertising from Breitbart News because it conflicted with brand values.
- Verizon and AT&T threatening to pull their advertising off YouTube when their brands were placed near objectionable content through programmatic ad placements.
- Initially, over 20 brands pulled their advertising from the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News when it became clear that the host had behaved improperly toward women.
- NFL sponsors Pepsi and Budweiser demanded the NFL clearly articulate a position against violence toward women when video surfaced showing a player striking his fiancé.
These brands have tried to proactively minimize bad external associations from negatively impacting their brands.
Preparing Your Brand
- In addition to the regular brand review we recommend, marketers can better prepare their brands to face a 24/7 world by doing the following:
Understand and review your brand messaging frequently. Make sure that ALL employees understand and embrace the brand message. They need to know what behaviors are consistent with your brand and which are not. Reinforce that EVERYTHING they do or say can be recorded or videotaped so they must behave in a way that’s consistent with the brand; or they won’t be working for your company very long.
- If you’re not conducting some kind of tracking research, start now! Brand tracking, Net Promoter or Social Media trending…..it’s critical to know your customer’s attitudes and behaviors so you can be ready to craft a smart, forward thinking response.
- Continually review and monitor how consumers are talking about your brand in social media and which brands it may be associated with in the digital and traditional advertising world.
- Have contingency plans ready to tackle these potential issues:
- Reacting to a self-inflicted brand crisis (e.g., United, Fox’s O’Reilly situation)
- Proactively managing your brand associations when reacting to an external crisis or issue (e.g., Verizon pulling advertising on YouTube)
Both circumstances have the opportunity to impact the value of your brand.
It was how Facebook finally decided to respond its Fake News issue that got us to think that no brand is immune. In today’s 24/7 brand cycle, strong brands might be able to survive a hit to their brand – once. It’s time we start thinking how we can protect our brands – real time.