MARKETING

After a Bewildering Set of Tragedies: 5 Rebranding Lessons From Malaysia Airlines

The embattled airline seeks to rebrand its image after two horrific disasters. What small businesses can learn from its strategy.
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Surviving a business disaster can often prove to be a massive challenge for a company. Surviving two, to the scale at which Malaysia Airlines faced recently, seems almost inconceivable.

This is what the bewildered airline is attempting to do after announcing its plans to accelerate it organization-widerebranding plans.

Many speculate that in the wake of two disasters over four months, which left over 500 people missing or dead, the airline will most likely need to change its name to distance itself from the reputation, however unfair it might be, that its airline is unsafe to fly.

Of course, a rebranding strategy of this magnitude has its own challenges, says Jason Cieslak, Pacific Rim President for Siegel+Gale, a global strategic branding and consulting firm. Any company trying to recover from a business disaster, regardless of the significance, must avoid the perception that is hiding from the problem.

Cieslak points out five considerations a company should make before engaging in a company rebranding following a disaster or other significant business issue.

  1. Own the problem. The worse thing a company can do is run from a problem. Americans in particular root for underdogs and are generally forgiving when a company takes responsibility.While it depends on the nature of the tragedy, Tylenol, Foster Farms, Jack in the Box,andAmerican Airlines are all examples ofhow the company faced up to its problems, and the public was ultimately able to forgive. On the other hand, Toyota recently was slow in responding to their safety issues and at first hinted that its automobile issues were caused by "user error." While it isthe Japanese business culture to not admit wrong doing, in the U.S., themedia and ultimately the consumers punished the company for being so dismissive.
  2. Lead from the top. Senior leadership, not junior managers, attorneys, or public relations executives, needs to be the face of the brand through the recovery, leading the narrative as it is presented to the public. The human face, and a person who is "owning it at the top of the organization," sends a powerful signal to customers, employees, stakeholders and even markets about leadership in times of crisis. As well, the narrative needs to focus on the disaster and the company's focus on resolving it.
  3. Do not move too fast. There is such a thing as too soon and too vain. The publicwill not easily or quickly forget who you used to be simply because you have a new logo. A good example of this is ValueJet, whichin 1996suffered a significant crisis after one of its plans crashed in Florida. The company quickly raced to rebrand and ended up merging with a much smaller competitor, AirTran, and assumed their name and headquarters. The move was seen by most as hiding, since the organization did not actual change its culture, just its name. When a company sets out to rebrand, it must do so for the right reasons, maintaining transparency to the public to show that it is a sign of change, not just a change of sign.
  4. Focus on those affected by the disaster. How you react and memorialize those affectedby the tragedy will leave the most lasting impression of your business. Do not fight over settlements and never dodge responsibility. The public will remember your sincerity and your decency--and equally your lack thereof if you are not careful. In an age of 24-7 news cycles and social media sharing, this cannot be underscored enough.
  5. Remember the employees. Anytime a business goes through a tragedy, especially one with the profile of the Malaysia Airlines disasters, remember that it has repercussions across your organization as well, affecting the pride and morale of everyone associated with the company. Not only do they too need reassurance, but since they are narrators of the story as well, you need totreatthem as much sensitivity and empathy as you do the victims.

Of course, there is no way to plan completely for a tragedy of the magnitude that inflicted Malaysia Airlines. If it does happen, the best way to for a business to recover may be to rebrand the company from top to bottom. Just remember that doing so does not make the tragedy go away or mask its significance. During the transition, remember to lead from the top, take responsibility, and stay ahead of the narrative.

Do you have an experience with a disaster, tragedy or other challenge that significantly affected your business? Please share your experience with others below.

Last updated: Aug 6, 2014

PETER GASCA | Co-founder of WildCreations.com

Peter Gasca is the co-founder of Wild Creations, an Inc 5000 company that focuses on kid-related products and supports kid entrepreneurs. He is also a small-business consultant, youth entrepreneur mentor, and business adjunct lecturer.




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