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How to Survive a Reputation Crisis

What’s in this article:

  • When facing a reputation crisis, your response determines whether you regain trust or lose it forever
  • Make sure customers know that you’re aware of their concerns and take the time to craft a thoughtful, brand-right solution
  • Start by following these examples of brand mishaps with steps for recovery if your brand reputation has taken a hit

It takes years to build up a brand reputation and gain consumer loyalty, but it takes just one instant for that hard work to be undone. When facing a reputation crisis, your response determines whether you regain that trust or lose it forever.

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If your reputation has taken a beating, learn from other brands’ crises by following these steps:

Respond quickly — but don’t rush a fix

Pop quiz: What’s the worst that could possibly happen when you release a hot new product? If you guessed “it literally catches on fire,” congratulations! You now know what Samsung faced in August 2016 when its latest Android smartphone, the Galaxy Note 7, began to melt down. Battery issues caused the device to overheat or even explode, and the manufacturer issued a recall the following month. To make things right, Samsung identified the problem and gave affected users replacement devices. Done and done.

Or so Samsung thought. As it turned out, the second batch of Note 7s also had serious deficiencies, and the dangerous issues continued. By October, the device was banned from planes and dropped by all major cellular networks, and the Note 7 died a fiery death.

Samsung was right to address the issue quickly, but the hasty recall and replacement did even more damage to the company’s reputation. Let this be a lesson to marketers facing their brand crises: Sometimes there’s no quick fix available and trying to force one will only make things worse.

Use transparency & humor while maintaining brand voice

KFC’s 2018 fried chicken shortage in the United Kingdom and Ireland may not have been quite as severe as Samsung’s exploding devices, but it was still a blow to the fast-food brand’s reputation. Thanks to an issue with its new supply chain partner, KFC was unable to get chickens to its restaurants, forcing about three-quarters of UK and Irish locations to close temporarily. The public response was a collective “You had one job,” to which KFC responded, “We know.”

KFC was incredibly transparent during this crisis, releasing a series of tweets with answers to frequently asked questions. The fast-food chain also took out a full-page print ad featuring an empty fried chicken bucket with its logo letters rearranged to spell “FCK.” The self-aware humor has long been a staple of this brand (and apparently most fast food brands), so the response was well-received. Naturally, humor and foul language won’t work in every PR crisis, but in this case, KFC nailed it while staying true to its brand voice.

Go beyond simply righting wrongs

Microsoft’s marketing for the newly released Xbox Series X/S consoles has been so on point, that it’s hard to believe the electronics manufacturer was suffering from a major reputation crisis less than a decade ago. However, that was the case following Microsoft’s 2013 E3 press conference, where the company announced a steep price point and confusing policies for the upcoming Xbox One. The announcements should have generated hype and positive buzz for the $500 gaming box, but instead, the company was thoroughly humiliated by direct competitor Sony — and had only itself to blame.

It took years for Microsoft to gain ground in the Xbox One/PS4 console war, but eventually, the company made up for this poor initial showing. By the end of that first month, the company reversed some of its most criticized policies. A year later, the company dropped the system’s price point by $100 and stopped bundling it with the expensive, underutilized Kinect camera.

Once the Xbox One arrived in a vastly improved competitive position, Microsoft didn’t stop there. In 2015, it announced an Xbox feature that the PS4 sorely lacked: backwards compatibility. The reveal stunned and pleased gamers, and Microsoft’s rep has been on the upswing ever since.

The lesson learned here is that while fixing mistakes is critical to resolving a reputation crisis, that step doesn’t erase the damage. To get back in customers’ good graces, you have to go above and beyond expectations.

Regain that ever-important customer loyalty

No one wants to deal with a reputation crisis, but if it’s out of your hands, all you can do is respond appropriately. Make sure customers know that you’re aware of their concerns and take the time to craft a thoughtful, brand-right solution. It may take some time, but with the right crisis plan, you’ll regain that ever-important customer loyalty — and possibly come back stronger than ever.

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