Gone are the days when businesses can afford to be reactive
In today’s world, we see a business in crisis almost every day. We operate in a high stakes environment, where issues like sexual harassment, data security, salary gaps, equality issues and corruption are constantly making headlines. With consumer and business customers willing to sever relationships with brands who don’t uphold certain values, lack of proactivity around crisis and reputation management can simply mark the end for some businesses.
A crisis mindset means having the perspective to be able to step back and identify where the obvious risks are for your business, while also being able to predict unexpected challenges based on market dynamics. Those with a crisis mindset are also comfortable stepping out of operational silos and thinking “how might X scenario play out for us externally, internally, and also operationally”. A proactive crisis mindset can’t be successful if it only focuses only on the day-to-day responsibilities of the thinker, whether that be marketing, communications, business operations, product management or something else.
Let’s give an example. Your business is launching a new consumer product. It, like all of your previous products, is made primarily of plastic. A crisis mindset might predict that market dynamics and active interest in plastic pollution could mean a backlash from certain environmental groups, media or influential individuals. With a crisis mindset you’d work with your business to prepare messaging around this imminent launch, aligned to your different stakeholder groups, which you can use proactively or reactively, as needed. You’d also work to identify longer term change requirements to ensure your business values and commitments continue to align with your customer’s expectations. That could mean a move away from plastic in the foreseeable future.
Speaking of values
I’ve mentioned values a couple of times and think it’s important to revisit what they really mean in a crisis context. A lack of alignment around values between a business and its customers is dangerous. Honesty is a great example. Businesses and consumers alike expect organisations they transact with to be honest. If a business doesn’t exhibit that value, we routinely see customers walk away from the brand. It’s shocking how quickly that can happen, and it’s almost impossible for businesses to rebuild bridges with those customers.
The work we’re doing at Hotwire around crisis reputation and management has shifted significantly over the past 18 months. From a brand perspective we regularly work with companies to define their values and message those clearly and regularly – and I mean daily/weekly – both internally and among external stakeholder audiences.
We then work with brands to proactively identify market level threats which could become crisis scenarios. For example, what is the business plan if a data theft or hack was to occur? What is the plan in the event of a major product failure? We’re always drawing these plans back to the company values. The precautionary measures we suggest to clients – be that processes, ready-made content or otherwise – which all need to be easily deployable in case the worst happens, have to align with what’s really important value-wise both to the business and also its customer base.
More and more, we’re also building crisis preparedness into regular campaign planning. Thinking about obvious issues relating to an upcoming announcement is key and if there are clear risks, appropriate plans should be made. That could include readying executives to talk in a way that is open while staying mindful of the business’ objectives and values, and also remaining legally appropriate.
Operating in a high stakes environment is hard, and it requires a mindset change. For marketing and communications leaders, who we work with day-to-day, this change is both challenging and a major opportunity. It puts marketing and comms at the very centre of the business. But understanding the difference between what consumers, business-level buyers and marketers expect in a crisis event is fundamental to ensuring the right plans are being made.
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