How do brands recover after serious service or social mistakes create PR disasters?
All brands, whether they represent companies, products, or services, have one thing in common — people. People create the brands, run the companies, make the products, and supply the services. And people make mistakes.
Eventually brands, like people, will make a mistake that upsets you and may even push you to seek and buy a competing brand.
Consider the 2018 Abbott Similac-brand baby formula recall that led to the closing of its Michigan production plant. The mistake — bacteria found at the production plant —was later blamed for a nationwide shortage.
Look at Southwest Airline’s holiday travel meltdown which left thousands of travelers stranded, upset, and outraged. This mistake cost Southwest more than a billion dollars in flight refunds, vouchers, and other compensation to its customers.
What can these brands recover, rehab their reputations, repair customer relations, and survive the negative press and social media?
WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE IS KEY
How quickly and fully a brand recovers from a major mistake that was heavily publicized, usually depends on what happened before the mistake. Fortunately for both Abbott and Southwest, they are likely to fully recover and do so quickly, because they spent years building customer loyalty.
Similac customers often crossed over multiple generations in the same family. Sentimental feelings are generated in Moms who just Similac packaging. Likewise, customer loyalty for Southwest is high for airline and its low-cost flights. Videos featuring personable Southwest flight attendants have been YouTube favorites for years.
Brands recovering from mistakes are also helped by the fact that consumers are creatures of habit. For long-term customers, buying a certain brand becomes a habit. Even if a customer is upset when the brand makes a mistake or performs poorly, statistics show most regular customers will keep buying that brand out of habit.
We forgive our favorite brands for their trespasses because we desire the benefits they provide. That desire eventually outweighs our anger and we begin to practice “unconscious forgiveness.” We make excuses for the brand’s mistake to justify our continued loyalty.
The best response is a quick response. Get the word out as soon as possible. Explain what happened, how it happened and why it happened. Outline what was done to ensure it won’t happen again. Compensate customers who were affected and be transparent about it all.
SOCIAL ISSUES AND BOYCOTTS
Recently Bud Light Beer and Target became targets of consumer boycotts when their efforts to be inclusive resulted in massive customer backlash.
The Daily Mail reported Bud Light’s parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev lost more than $6 billion in market cap in just six days after its partnership with Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender social media influencer, generated a huge backlash.
According to Business Insider, Target sales dropped substantially when it sparked a nationwide boycott from customers objecting to its Pride Month displays. Cnet reported Target’s stock took a $15 billion hit in the first 10 days of the boycott.
Boycotts typically end when companies make some concessions, and most of the boycotting customers decide to let it the issue go. Bud Light cut ties with Mulvaney and Target stores moved the displays. Unconscious forgiveness will kick in and soon, most of the boycotting customers will eventually return to the fold.
You can prevent some mistakes with research. Make sure you understand what your customer wants and what they don’t want. Use secret shoppers and create a team to search for weaknesses and imagine every possible mistake and scenario.
You can’t predict or prevent all boo-boos, but you can treat them and help your brand and your customers heal.