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How to Deal with Brand Damage

4.9 million barrels of oil (205.8 million gallons) leaked from the Deepwater Horizon well, about half the amount of crude oil the U.S. imports per day because of BP. The damage to the brand was catastrophic and resulted in a major loss of revenue. While your brand damage may not be as bad, it’s an important reference to understand in how brands must navigate following a damaging event.

Brand damage isn’t a matter of if, it’s when. Even the best brands, with the best intentions can and will have something damaging. Why? Because we are human. We make mistakes. We say things and do things we wish we hadn’t. We are flawed. We are not perfect – not even close. Today we live in a world of amplification. Technology allows news and gossip to spread rapidly. We are all equipped to not only record, but broadcast human nature. The good and the bad.

As you become more important, whether at school, amongst your peers, climbing the corporate ladder, or become somewhat of a celebrity (even if that is done in a smaller circle, not on the national level) people pay closer attention to you. And you will become a target. This isn’t to say you will be scrutinized at every turn, but it does mean people will have a stronger opinion about what you say, what you do and what you stand for.

BRAND DAMAGE

Even if you have a well defined brand and manage it extremely well, you have the potential for damage to occur. This can come in the form of a slip up or uncharacteristic poor decision. It also happens if you are misunderstood. Let’s face it, social media gives people an unbelievably safe environment to speak their minds from behind a screen. They say things they would never say face-to-face. They scrutinize and judge people and companies they don’t know personally. I love social media, but sometimes the trolls really bother me…

So, here are ways to deal with brand damage.

HIDE

We’ve all read or heard stories of celebrities who have gotten into trouble. One of the most popular ways to address this is to go to “rehab”. It’s a popular choice because they are out of communication. The can stick their head in the sand and wait for everything to blow over. This may be an option for you.

If something were to happen, you could stay off social or even deactivate some accounts. You could stay in and retreat in hopes people will just forgive and forget. I’m not saying any of the options, including this one, are right or wrong. I think it all depends on you and the situation. However, this is a dangerous tactic since people can make up whatever they want. If you aren’t addressing it, then you leave your brand in the hands of everyone else.

ADDRESS IT

I recently had my first head-on attack to my brand. Someone read a post I did months ago and took one small bullet point incorrectly. They came at me hard on social and began making judgments against me and my character. This guy had never met or talked to me.

At first I was really angry. I wanted to fight back and try to explain why he was wrong and how ridiculous his arguments were. I took a few moments, cooled down and responded. I sincerely apologized that he misunderstood my words and told him I truly meant no harm. He tried arguing and took a few jabs but eventually dropped it. We both moved on.
Part of me really wanted to argue with this guy, but in the end I know I made the right decision. More attention would have been brought to this if we dragged it out. Addressing it, apologizing and moving on may not work in every situation, but it was definitely the right move here.

FIGHT

A few weeks later I witnessed a very similar situation happening with a well known athlete. He asked a harmless question on twitter and the trolls swarmed. He was getting accused of being a racist, sexist, ignorant, etc. His question was honestly none of those things, and he was actually asking about a friend (another famous athlete). Unlike my response, he decided to fight. I watched for about 30 minutes as he defended his position and fired back at some of the people attacking him. Was this the right move? He was right after all…. The problem was, the more he fought, the more attention the ongoing argument received. I didn’t stick around to see how it ended, but my guess is no one really won in the end.

Whatever your tactic is, you should have a plan. You should think about how you would handle the situation when brand damage happens to you. Whether it’s a big issue or something small, your response and the way you handle it may have a lasting impact.

About Patrick Sitkins

Patrick Sitkins is Founder & CEO of Adaptive IMS, a strategic branding and inbound marketing firm. He is also Co-Author of Brand Aid [Penguin Random House Press]. Personally he's a husband, father of two, triathlete, ocean addict and craft beer connoisseur.

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