In this fast-paced world where call-out culture is rife and brands’ internal policies and inner workings are increasingly under a microscope, it would be naive to think missteps won’t occur along the way. But once the inevitable pile on has subsided, how brands apologise for their actions can be the difference between saving their reputation or being tarred for life. So when they slip up and find themselves plunged into hot water, it’s important to take control of the situation.
Generally speaking the longer brands leave it to say sorry, the more it festers. Acting promptly can help defuse a difficult situation and demonstrate real remorse.
That’s not to say you should fire it out without thinking though. Timing an apology perfectly also comes down to the seriousness of what you’ve done. If your business is involved in a heavyweight issue, you should give people the chance to express their anger first. For example, the recent allegations against Boohoo regarding low wages and poor working conditions at its factory in Leicester require a much more robust response than Gregg’s substitution of Jesus for a sausage roll.
Where you broadcast your apology should also depend on the severity of the action. A simple tweet might do the trick for something minor or even a piece in print for more of a mishap, but if you’ve negatively impacted customers’ or employee’s lives you’ll need to do more to save your bacon. The worst offences call for sincere public apologies on camera from the CEO – but make sure they come across as genuinely sorry.
How you deliver your sorry can be your saving grace. Skirting around the issue or shifting blame is the most destructive thing you can do, so start by admitting fault directly. A wise next move is to express remorse authentically and tell your audience how you’re going to change or make amends. Make it powerful, know who you’re talking to and know when the situation allows for a little creativity, such as when you’re dealing with logistical errors. Take KFC’s response to their chicken shortage with their genius ‘FCK’ ad – a rare example where humour can help your brand rise above a sticky situation.
But most importantly, learn from your mistakes to give your brand the chance to be forgiven. Saying sorry might damage your ego, but having to say it twice could damage your brand’s reputation beyond repair.
While our above guidance details how you should behave when things go wrong, we’d be remiss if we didn’t call out the obvious here. Saying sorry is the easy part. Changing your brand’s behaviour before you reach crisis point is hella harder.
Consumers, perhaps now more than ever, care about how the brands they buy-into behave. According to Accenture, 37% of UK consumers have stopped doing business with a company because of its words or actions on a social issue. In a vastly competitive world, brands simply cannot afford to get it wrong.
So take time to review your brands’ strategy, whether it’s operationally, visually or verbally, and ask yourself is it fit for where you are now and where you are going? Is it still relevant? Is it connected to your wider brand purpose? By asking yourself these tough questions now, you may be able to pivot from countless apologies later.
For help ensuring your brand strategy is on course for success, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.