The year began with a spot of drama. Everyone’s favorite Irvins Salted Egg Chips had committed a boo-boo: a dead lizard was found in a packet of their fish skin snack packet.
Amidst the hue and cry, when most of the other companies would have stuck their head in the sand and tried to hush up the issue, Irvins responded with an official apology on their Facebook page. Besides offering the affected customer a full refund for their purchased snacks and promising to cover the full cost of any medical bills arising from the incident, they also were fully transparent about the incident, asking all customers with snacks made in the same batch to get in touch for a full refund.
The prompt and transparent response drew a lot of praise from people all across social media, with many complimenting the brand’s honesty and sincerity, and recognizing that the company regards their customers as their top priority.
We live in a world where almost nothing can be swept under the carpet, so when something bad happens, your brand can’t pretend it didn’t. Sure, companies have done this in the past. But continuing to adopt that stance is a bad marketing idea because your consumer will find out about it through online reviews, social media, or digital new sites. The better way to deal with it? Own up to your mistake. Manage your reputation and use it to regain your consumer’s trust in you.
The digital consumer is smarter than you realize and can spot a fib a mile away. For every exaggerated claim a marketer makes, there’s a user review setting things straight. For every photoshopped image of a fancy meal, there is an equivalent snap clicked by a diner in the harsh light of reality. And for every smart tweet put out, there is a smart retort and most often, an awkward moment of silence or a hurriedly deleted post.
They say when you can’t beat them, join them. And marketers are realizing this. So, instead of letting their missteps bring them grief and shame, they are now owning up to their mistakes and using them to gather intelligence and prove themselves better.
Another case in point: the Relotius affair. Early last December, DER SPIEGEL, a leading German news magazine, broke the news that one of its celebrated reporters, Claas Relotius, had been fabricating articles. Had any other news organization broken the story, it would have been the end of DER SPIEGEL. But the story was uncovered by one of its own employees, and the senior editors there had the journalistic integrity to let the story run. The entire exposé and its ramifications are up on the website for their readers to see. Sticking to the principles they have, they could still hold up their heads high, and even when it meant turning the harsh light of truth on themselves, they were able to tide through the storm that would have shaken any other organization and retain their readers’ trust in them. That’s a lesson indeed for any brand custodian.
When in the business of branding and marketing, it can seem hard to tread the thin line between embellishment, exaggeration, and outright lying. So what’s the simplest way to stay honest? The first tip: gain your consumer’s trust by putting your customer first, even at the cost of short term gains and a seeming loss of face. That’s the lesson other brands in similar situations can learn from the role model brands like Irvins and DER SPIEGEL.
And the second tip? Dare to enter that hallowed ground we call the consumer’s mind. Once you’re there, there’s a lot to achieve by using the good, old-fashioned power of observation and a fresh approach. More on that later. But to put it succinctly, remember what old David had said long ago: ‘The customer is not a moron, she’s your wife’.