Remember the scene in the movie Poltergeist when the worried parents came home to find their young daughter staring at a TV screen of static? The spooky little girl turned around and announced to her terrified folks, “They’re here.”
I felt that way when I saw the recent marketing efforts for the areas in the Northeast hammered by Superstorm Sandy. Seems like they hired the same incompetent marketers that worked in the Gulf Coast after the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Back then, a prolonged recession, increased competition, reduced consumer confidence, and many other reasons had already softened most of the Gulf Coast destinations’ business. But after the BP disaster they felt that by just announcing, “We don’t have greasy beaches yet,” consumers would arrive in droves. But since when was telling people the reasons why they shouldn’t not come considered good marketing?
“Eat here, our restaurant isn’t dirty.”
“Drive our car, it’s not unsafe.”
“Wear our jeans, they don’t make you look fat.”
Thanks to Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, even most politicians have learned that defending a negative doesn’t work:
“I am not a crook.”
“I did not have sex with that woman.”
Oh yeah? How’d that line work out for you?
Saying, “We weren’t flooded” or that “Our citizens depend on casino jobs” is more of the same — telling people why they shouldn’t not come. Instead, thoughtful messaging for the near future is critical, particularly in markets that were hurting before anyone ever heard of Superstorm Sandy.
As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said during a November 2008 Wall Street Journal Forum, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Resort areas in the stricken region should seize the opportunity to highlight their strongest selling points and not just make their areas look dry because negative perceptions have already been developed even if there wasn’t much flood damage. And with all eyes on the area, now is the perfect time to show those eyes what they’re missing. At least the positive parts.
The consequences of this tragedy, imagined to be the costliest U.S. natural disaster to date, will go on for years. But world events have already pushed the situation off the front pages.
Do you think the issue won’t go away quickly? When was the last time you were glued to your TV to find out about conditions in Haiti, the consequences of the last election or even health care reform? We Americans have a notoriously short attention span and when the media moves on, so do we.
Of course you know that just because the situation doesn’t make front-page headlines anymore doesn’t mean that everything is better. Post-earthquake Haiti is still the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and suffers from every possible ill of poverty, non-existent infrastructure, and aggressively corrupt leadership; it’s just that we’re not so actively involved anymore. Out of sight, out of mind is not just a glib saying; it’s an accurate description of our national attention deficit syndrome.
So maybe the cameras moving on to the next subject will be a good thing for coastal New Jersey’s tourism. After all, if pictures of flooded homes aren’t on our TV screens 24/7, visitors might forget about the storm and rebook their vacations. On the other hand, what happens if devastated neighborhoods are the last things consumers see before the cameras leave and there are no inviting images to change that perception?
The solution is not to tell people the reasons why they shouldn’t not come but instead to build compelling stories that connect with consumers’ emotions and build desire. I’m still waiting to see those campaigns from the affected destinations. For their sake, let’s hope they’re coming soon.
Think back 20 years.
You had just checked into your hotel. You went up to your room and found a disgustingly large cockroach scrabbling around in your bathtub.
After you screamed or screeched or hopped up on the toilet tank, you called the front desk and they got rid of the giant bug.
But then when you got home you decided to write a note and complain to the hotel. So you dragged out your stationery, found a pen, scribbled your complaint, stuck it in an envelope, licked the flap, and rooted around for a stamp.
Three weeks later the letter was still sitting on your mantle until you finally remembered to take it with you and drop it in a mailbox.
Three weeks after that you got a letter back from the hotel that said something like this:
Ten years ago if you happened on a roach in your hotel tub you would have waited until you got home, fired up the computer, and zipped off an email explaining your disappointment. And you would probably get an email back within a few days that said pretty much the same thing that the letter did.
Now picture what would happen today:
You walk into the bathroom and find the same damn roach partying in the tub. What’s the first thing you do — scream? No, you take a picture of the bug with your smartphone. And you don’t even have to reach for your phone because you were either texting or playing Words With Friends as you walked into the bathroom in the first place.
Then you add a note — “OMG!! WTF??!! There’s a ROACH in my room at the XYZ Hotel” — and hit SEND. Your comments, and the roach, are instantly uploaded to your 7,000 Twitter followers and 3,300 hundred LinkedIn associates, and to 587 of your closest friends on Facebook. And even assuming that only 10% of your contacts are online at the moment, that means that more than 1,000 people know about the roach within minutes.
Worse, many of them forward your note to their collection of contacts. A bunch of people “like” your post and one or two sickos probably even post the picture on their Pinterest cockroach enthusiasts’ board with a comment such as, “Check out this beautiful German cockroach specimen my friend spotted at the XYZ Hotel.”
So less than 10 minutes after you spied the roach, thousands and thousands of people know about it and the XYZ Hotel. And if the hotel’s marketing staff isn’t monitoring their name on the Web, they are completely unaware that this sort of news is hopscotching around the globe.
Do you still believe you control your brand?
Sure you can create clear, concise, cogent, and comprehensive communications. But if your brand isn’t powerful enough to withstand these kinds of assaults, you’d better start thinking about how you’re going to reinforce it.
To modify the old saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,” understand that if your brand doesn’t stand for something, your customers will fall for anything. Today the power of smartphones and the Internet, combined with the newly democratized control of information, means every single person your brand interfaces with has the potential to reinforce — or redefine — your messaging.
Managed properly, this new situation can be both powerful and profitable. Managed poorly, it’s a lot scarier than that disgusting bug crawling in your bathtub.
So what should you do? A proper brand audit is the first step. After all, if you don’t know what you’ve got, then how can you figure out what you’re capable of? After that, crafting your core messaging and strengthening any weaknesses are crucial. So is assembling your brand standards, building your distribution strategy, and creating your crises plan. And then, implementing your plan in a systematic, measurable way. And finally, evaluating both your actions and their effect.
It’s simple, but not easy. If you want help, call us and we’ll show you how.
We’ve all seen the famous scene in Casablanca where Captain Renault reacts to the graft taking place right under his watch. “I’m shocked, SHOCKED, to find that gambling is going on in here!” he says as the croupier hands him a pile of money. The movie was a prescient statement about today’s world where business and political leaders are seemingly shocked by events that they knew about and consequences that they should have known were coming.
A few weeks ago I wrote about hedge fund billionaire Phil Falcone and his ongoing battle with AT&T and other cellular communications companies. While Falcone may be in the right, poor handling of his public persona and private battles conspired to help him snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Where some media training and a strategically aggressive communications campaign could have changed his situation, now he very well might watch a billion-dollar investment waste away to nothing.
How about Herman Cain? Just a month ago this rising political star was the darling of the Republican Party, now he’s watching his poll numbers, and his future, swirl around and down the toilet of public opinion.
It was a little more than a week ago that the news broke that Cain was accused of sexual harassment when he was president of the National Restaurant Association. At the time, his response was that that he knew nothing about the claims and the rumors were patently untrue. But on Thursday word came out that Cain had actually paid $45,000 to settle the claims of one of his accusers. $45,000 cash! Kind of hard to forget about that, eh?
In a defense of sorts, campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon said that the campaign had raised $1.2 million since news of the allegations. “Mr. Cain’s supporters around the country have rallied around him…as we battle this appalling smear campaign.” Gordon’s suggestion, of course, is that the $1.2 million is proof positive that Cain couldn’t possibly be guilty. Needless to say, one thing has nothing to do with the other.
“They have not followed the cardinal rule of Crisis Management 101,” said Steve Caldiera, who worked for Mr. Cain at the restaurant association and says he’s a friend. “Above all, you get everything out there right away.”
The worst part is, there was no need for either of these disasters. If companies and candidates would simply practice effective Brand Aid, they’d build strong brands that would resonate with their consumers and protect their futures.
Tylenol Did It. Toyota Didn’t.
Corrupted Tylenol products were accused of poisoning their customers, yet thanks to a well-orchestrated marketing response, Tylenol created the textbook case for rescuing a damaged brand. And when five Ferrari 458 supercars burst into spontaneous fireballs, the Italian company’s quick and aggressive response not only rescued their brand but added value directly to their bottom line. Toyota, on the other hand, botched their unintended acceleration problem so badly that even though experts later exonerated the car company of any wrongdoing, estimates are their brand lost over a billion dollars in value.
The steps for rescuing an endangered brand are easy to recite but not so easy to implement. Still, with some advance planning and creativity, profitable brands can build an effective response to most any bad news that comes their way. Or as they used to say about naughty congressmen, bad news doesn’t matter unless you’re caught in bed with a live boy or a dead girl.
Five Steps To Save Your Brand.
1. Confess. Steve Caldiera was right. You must get all the information in front of the public as quickly as possible. Just like obsessively tormenting a painful cavity with your tongue, nothing is worse than bad information that oozes out slowly. Instead, it’s crucial to step up to the plate, admit all your wrongdoings, and move on. If the public needs to hear bad news, they need to hear it from you. Once.
2. Define. As my good friend Ray Ruga constantly reminds me, define your issue before someone else does. Nature abhors a vacuum and the competition is just waiting for the opportunity to fill empty airspace with negative comments. Decide on your best strategy and stick to it.
3. Act. Fix the problem permanently and unequivocally. Tylenol took all their products off the shelves, not just the potentially tainted bottles. Ferrari replaced every damaged car with a brand new vehicle regardless of mileage or ownership status. Besides demonstrating that you care, your customers can’t effectively complain about problems that no longer exist.
4. Apologize. Apologize honestly, sincerely, and completely. “I’m sorry if you were upset” is not an apology. If your words of remorse contain “if” or “but,” chances are you’re not being as contrite as you should.
5. Relate. Finally, make sure that your entire brand mitigation program appeals to your audience’s emotional side. As we discussed in the previous post, Falcone failed because his explanations were full of technical “speeds and feeds” details while his competition was talking about farmers not being able to produce food and planes falling out of the sky. Remember that people make decisions based on their emotions and justify those decisions with facts. Brands that forget this simple truism do so at their own peril.
Remember to act quickly and decisively. Today’s 24-hour news cycle doesn’t leave any opportunity to wait or delay. Your brand reclamation program should be crafted long in advance and sit patiently on the shelf next to the fire extinguisher. You never know which one you’ll need to save your life.
And above all, remember to call us to help build your brand value. After all, crafting powerful and successful brands is exactly what we do.