When bad things happen, companies need the right strategy for talking their way out of a mess and avoiding a calamitous pummeling of their corporate image. Choosing the best response can spell the difference between a brand’s survival — even enhancement — and its irreversible tarnishing.
When a crisis strikes, brands can avert backlash from consumers — and even strengthen the brand — with well-considered and thoughtfully deployed communication. Based on scientific research on persuasion, the authors present a comprehensive crisis communication framework to help restore consumer trust, illustrating these recommendations using cases of both successful and unsuccessful recovery from brand crises. The authors draw heavily on Toyota’s recent experience in responding to the unintended acceleration of some of its vehicles. Toyota’s responses provide examples both of what to do, and what not to do, when a company is accused of wrongdoing.
The authors contend that there is no one best communications path to follow when a company is in crisis. Rather, they say, the best approach will depend on the answers to three central questions: Is the accusation prompting the crisis true? Is the crisis severe? Has the company established its brand as something that customers closely identify with? Taking these factors into account, a company might best be served by some combination of seven communications strategies. These strategies range from admitting error and apologizing on the one extreme to defiantly denying and wrongdoing and even attacking the accuser on the other.
In addition to describing these seven communications strategies, the authors also lay out four lessons on corporate crisis communications that emerge from the Toyota debacle. One, in the Internet age, speed of response is imperative. Second (and a corollary to the need for speed), companies need to be ready for a crisis at all times, and have at hand a step-by-step protocol to follow when bad things happen. Third, it is essential that in a time of crisis, the CEO him or herself — not lower level management–needs to step forward and publicly articulate the company’s responses. And fourth, companies must not delude themselves that they can skate by while ignoring a crisis. Response is essential.