By Greg Berube, February 5, 2012

Recently, in the news there have been some very disturbing events concerning brands and how organizations fail to understand the importance of everyday brand communication.

As I pointed out in an earlier article, we define ourselves by the brands we choose. It helps us understand our place in the world. Organizations bank their revenues on this type of philosophy.

With this in mind I would like to draw to your attention two terrible mistakes made by two international brands that will affect their go- forward planning and certainly overall revenues.

  1. The unfortunate Costa Concordia disaster. This tragedy and the ensuing blame around a hotdogging captain and false rumours of a 30% discount on future cruises for stricken passengers represent the worst kind of brand disaster – breached safety standards and passenger, person insensitivity can be fatal to even the strongest brands.
  2. Blackberry (RIM).  This Company has had its troubles in the past few years as it struggles to catch up with the competition that always seems to be one step ahead. Finally, after pressure from shareholders the two founders stepped aside and named a new President. Unfortunately, stating that the there is no need for major change and that “the Company will continue to build on its present plan” in his first public appearance was also insensitive and exactly what customers, shareholders and people who care about the brand didn’t want to hear. The share price and media sentiment reacted accordingly.

Although these are starkly different examples of brand disasters, it doesn’t appear that in either case there was much of a meaty plan to recognize the sensitivity requirements and the necessity to ‘communicate the appropriate message’ .

Here are a few tips and ideas on brand disaster planning for your consideration:

  • Rally the troops, circle the wagons – start internally, get all employees and stakeholders organized and define rules and expectations from all senior and intermediate managers. Remember, they speak directly to customers and affect revenues daily.
  • Get the story straight – get all the facts – take your time and make your first interview count, all other communications will be based on the first words, the tone, the language – even the body language, all must be right. Deliver your message and believe it.   Don’t make the media guess, draw their own conclusions or connect the dots. Their job is to sell the story – the more sensational the better. They really won’t care if you don’t care.
  • Choose a media format – it could be a Press Release, electronic media (reality is  Facebook and twitter will most likely break the story before you) – you must be in front of, (and in control of) the message.
  • Stick to the story – once you got your message keep repeating it, most people need to hear/ see something three times before they absorb it completely. Make sure you leave the option open to expand the story as facts change.
  • Pick a spokesperson – one person – this is important – not all CEOs make good spokespeople, find one early and get them media training.
  • Accept some loss – you will lose some revenues, plan for the future.

Although these steps seem simple, planning for them can sometimes be a difficult exercise. Brand disasters just don’t happen everyday!

However, when they do happen, and as companies further develop and fund and tie their financial success to their brand, this planning must be undertaken. When disaster does happen, everyone is going to thank you.