A brand can be considered synonymous with its reputation or how it is perceived in the minds of stakeholders and the public. The stories and experiences that are told and shared about a brand creates its reputation and contributes to its brand awareness. Brand awareness can influence an organizations’ strategic communication plan because it is vital to spreading the word about products/services and reaching goals such as raising money for a cause or increasing financial profits. Furthermore strategic steps taken before a crisis can minimize the potential damage of reputation that most often follow negative events (Coombs & Holladay, 2012). This is imperative as a brands’ reputation is directly related to its financial stability (Coombs & Holladay, 2012). Proactive communication strategies that brands can use to minimize reputation damage are; targeted listening, building online communities, bolstering and inoculation messages (Coombs & Holladay, 2012). Characteristics an organization should incorporate in their brand awareness campaigns are transparency, the ability to quickly and effectively address negative feedback and proper apology stance.
Targeted Listening and Building online communities. Building positive relationships with bloggers, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc users is important to acquiring much needed support and pushback when issues or crises arise. But even before a brand builds communities, Dallas Lawrence, Chair of Levick Strategic Communications, suggest that organizations and brands launch active listening campaigns (PRC, 2009).
Lawrence explains, in addition to sophisticated tools and organization could use, there are also free services such as Google News Alert (now called Google Alerts). One can simply type the name of what they are looking for and everything from news, blogs, social media posts and web content pops up. Alert options such as from what sources, region, how many results, what language and how often to be delivered to your inbox are also available.
Quickly address negative experiences. Having one’s “ear to the street,” creates awareness of positive and negative online conversations and gives an organization insight as to what they are doing well and what should be addressed (Manfield, 2011). Addressing issues immediately, in real time, can prevent a crisis from occurring and strengthen positive perceptions.
Inoculation and Bolstering Messaging
Inoculation is the process in which challenges to existing attitudes are raised and addressed. It’s pretty much the process of an organization warning their stakeholders by saying, in so many words, “Hey loyal supporters, so ‘n so is going to say these negative things about us and what they are going to tell is not true because…” (Coombs & Holladay, 2012).
Bolstering is a tactic in which an organization emphasizes financial status and good deeds. Corporate social responsibility (CSR), a subcategory of bolstering, is where a company builds trust by doing good deeds in the community (Coombs & Holladay, 2012).
Research by Coombs & Holladay (2012) found that inoculation is somewhat effective in minimizing damage to organizations reputation following crises, however, only in areas of emotional appeal, products and services. Bolstering was also found useful in protecting a corporation’s reputation after crises (Coombs & Holladay, 2012). While CSR messages could also curtail harm, though only when addressing a company’s product, services and financial performance (Coombs & Holladay, 2012).
Proper apologetic stance. Perception as pointed out earlier effects reputation. Even if a brand has the right intentions but their actions are perceived as wrong, then they are wrong and to need to make it right (MMT, 2011). After getting an outside honest opinion, that can help a brand gauge where the organization is in the “perception battle,” Mr. Media Training [MMT] (2011) urges the best practice is to approach the issue right the first time by not being defensive. In this situation organizations should say “Hey we hear you, we got it wrong and it won’t happen again” (MMT, 2011). Taking the defensive route only makes matters worse by motivating critiques to go after a brand even harder (MMT, 2011).
The opportunities to create positive brand perceptions and minimize reputation damage following crises can influence an organization’s overall strategic communication planning. Strategies that organizations should consider incorporating in their planning are targeted listening, building online communities, bolstering and inoculation messaging. Characteristics that organizations should take on that will play a role in positive brand perception and awareness are; the ability to quickly and effectively address negative consumer experiences and apply the proper apologetic stance. Doing so can motivate stakeholders to contribute to favorable brand awareness by sharing positive messages and most importantly show support in times of crises.
Coombs.T. W., Hollady, S. J (2012) The handbook of crisis communication. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Malden, MA
Manfield, L (2011, February 25) Every crisis is a social media crisis. Backbonemag.com. Retrieved from http://www.backbonemag.com/Magazine/2011-03/every-crisis-is-a-social-media-crisis.aspx
Mr. Media Training [MMT] (2011, April 22) Crisis communications: The right way to apologize [Video File] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeA7HSl-bdI
PRconversations [PRC] (2009, October 3) Social media before and after a crisis [Video File] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9G6FFNnqZ8