As blogger Seth Godin writes on his blog, "A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer's decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer...doesn't pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer."
While you may be able to influence their opinion, how people feel about your brand is entirely up to them. This means the perception of your brand is in the hands of your audience. You may not be able to control what people think about your brand, but you can control your brand's voice.
When a crisis hits, how do you react? Plenty of brands have faced tough challenges and come out the other side with their reputations still intact. But that depends on how your team handles the situation.
With the right plan and a well-thought-out strategy, you can manage crises effectively. Handle them poorly though, and your good name will be dragged through the mud. Here are five of the biggest PR failures from the last decade that you can learn from:
1. Domino's YouTube scandal
Can just two employees take a big brand down? The answer is yes, and that's exactly what happened in 2009 when two of Domino's employees posted a video on YouTube of themselves preparing food in disgusting ways.
Domino's didn't react right away, but instead waited two days before responding to the situation. They offered an apology, but by that time it was too late. According to The New York Times, consumer perception of Domino's brand turned negative within hours.
Crises spread quickly, and the sooner you can get on top of things, the better. Don't wait until it's too late to start mitigating the damage.
2. BP oil spill
In 2010, the seal of an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico failed, causing the worst oil spill in history. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers and causing oil and methane gas to pour into the ocean for 87 days afterward.
BP, the company in charge of the oil rig and responsible for its failure, was blamed for what CNN calls "the worst environmental disaster in history."
But it wasn't just BP's negligence that caused damage to their brand. The company's reaction to the events, including CEO Tony Hayward's thoughtless comment, "I want my life back," and subsequent apology, showed a serious lack of organization and ownership of the situation.
If your company has done something wrong, you must take responsibility for it. Showing you are accountable for your actions will be a step in the right direction for rebuilding your brand.
3. Nestle vs. Greenpeace
A campaign by Greenpeace protesting Nestle's use of palm oil went viral in 2010 with a YouTube video parodying a Kit Kat ad. In the video, an office worker opens a Kit Kat bar only to find an orangutan finger instead.
The video was meant to highlight how Nestle's sourcing of palm oil is endangering orangutans in Indonesia. Greenpeace even parodied the Kit Kat slogan, changing it to "Have a break? Give orangutans a break."
Instead of addressing the situation head-on, Nestle's response was to contact YouTube and have the video removed, claiming copyright infringement. The video was removed, but not before it caused public outrage. Nestle received many social media comments, but deleted those as well.
If someone has a negative opinion of your brand, don't ignore it, or worse delete it. Not everyone will like your policies or products, but you can explain your side in a peaceful manner.
4. Sony Pictures hacking scandal
The Guardian calls it "probably the largest corporate hack in history." In 2013, Sony Pictures was hacked by a group called the "Guardians of Peace" in an effort to ensure the studio would not release its film, "The Interview." The film, which starred Seth Rogen and James Franco, was centered around an assassination plot of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The hackers gained access to the personal records of 47,000 employees and released a ton of embarrassing emails from the studio's heads. They also leaked several of Sony's upcoming movies, including "Annie," "Still Alice" and "Fury."
In a company-wide memo, Sony CEO Michael Lynton and co-chairman Amy Pascal said, "The release of employee and other information are malicious criminal acts, and we are working closely with law enforcement."
But soon after, Sony canceled the release of the film and distributed it digitally instead. Barack Obama criticized the company for giving in to the attackers.
When there is a problem at your company, sitting back and letting the problem grow is not the right strategy. You must make every effort to put the fire out as soon as possible before it blows up in your face.
5. United Airline's passenger removal incident
When a video depicting a customer being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight went viral earlier this year, the public went into an uproar. In the video, a passenger screams as he is dragged off a plane, bloodying his face in the process.
CEO Oscar Munoz addressed the situation, but did not do much to allay the public's outrage. In a statement, he wrote, "This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers." He also called the passenger "disruptive and belligerent."
This lukewarm apology was met with much criticism with many calling for Munoz's removal. Shares of United also fell in the wake of the incident.
Apologies should be sincere and genuine and show full acceptance of the event. This is not the time to use corporate speak.
Have you dealt with a brand crisis before? What steps did you take to turn public perception of your brand positive again? Let me know in the comments below: