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A brand's potential power to influence is undeniable: From Virgin to Nike and Lady Gaga, high-profile lifestyle brands have significantly affected our modern culture. But what happens when a brand goes too far... and ends up being its own worst enemy?

In 2011, many of us read about the death of Jackass star Ryan Dunn, who died in an alcohol-related car crash. You may have also seen (or at least heard of) the documentary Steve-O: Demise and Rise, which followed another member of the Jackass brand as his life spun out of control with drugs and alcohol. Though those stories are certainly tragic, the real tragedy is that they, unfortunately, perpetuate the lifestyle promoted by the Jackass brand.

Now, your branding dilemmas will probably never approach the gravity of the one that faced the Jackass folks. But regardless of industry, such branding dilemmas bring up the question, At what point does the marketing engine take a good, hard look at the tradeoff between brand-building and destruction? Though that seems to be an ongoing dilemma for producers of reality TV, brands in any industry can be battered.

Ask companies such as British Petroleum (BP), Bank of America, Enron, and others that have been through a firestorm of crisis and criticism... what they would do differently in response to a brand catastrophe. The answers would likely all boil down to a few simple, common-sense steps.

Whether a brand is facing a minor kerfuffle or a major tragedy, the path of correction should be simple and clear.

1. Step back, and think about your customers

As a marketer, you already know who your customers are and what they think. Now consider how your situation may be affecting them and what kind of resolution you know they'll expect from you. Establish an appropriate remedy immediately, and tell customers about it. Now is the time to really put your customers first—even though your gut instincts might tell you to focus elsewhere.

2. Own it

Your mother was right: It's always best to admit your mistakes right away, before the Blame Game or malicious speculation starts. Proactivity is absolutely essential—but that doesn't mean scheduling a press conference a week from Tuesday. You've got to get out there within days (or, better yet, hours), and come clean. Answer questions—truthfully and completely—before they are asked. Admit to the problem, whether its cause was internal—or external and the result of circumstances beyond your control. Your customers will appreciate your candor.

3. Apologize, apologize, apologize (and listen)

You'd think apologizing would be a no-brainer, but it doesn't happen often enough in brand crises. Get out there and give an honest apology—across as many media outlets as possible. Often, a simple and sincere apology can mean the difference between being perceived as arrogant or compassionate... or between having a customer remain loyal or retain an attorney. And, after you apologize, be prepared to listen... and listen well. Those affected by your issue will want to tell you all about it, in no uncertain terms. You need to just cowboy up, take the heat, and (again) apologize directly.

4. Do the right thing

Next, you need to fix it—fast. Don't let your brand crisis fester. Get together with your product folks, your marketers, your sales teams, and your customer service reps, and develop a remedy that fits the issue and doesn't fall short. Customers may consider inadequate fixes to be condescending, so do not cut corners when resolving the problem. And always, always make sure your customers know that you're fixing it, how you're fixing it, and when you'll show them tangible evidence of their personal "fix." Ask them for their feedback, and listen to it!

5. Move on

Once you've resolved the issue, let it go and move on. If you've been open, honest, and prompt with your response, the likelihood that customers will bubble the issue to the surface, over and over in the future, is extremely slim. In fact, they might end up being your staunchest defenders! If the fallout from the crisis does come back to nibble at your heels from time to time, simply go back to step No. 1, and repeat the process.

Hollywood, for example, offers many high-profile cases of celebrities who have crashed and burned after a crisis, tragedy, or major misstep (think Mel Gibson or O.J. Simpson), and those who have risen from the ashes to rebuild their reputations and even receive professional kudos (e.g., Robert Downey Jr., Hugh Grant).

* * *

Implementing the guidelines in this article will help you take control of any crisis situation your brand may encounter, and emerge with a healthy brand, a stronger reputation, and reinforced customer loyalty.

(Image courtesy of Bigstock, Marketing Business Failure.)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anita Williams Weinberg is an online content strategist, social marketer, and copywriter. Her company, Poppermost Communications, specializes in case studies, social media content, and strategic Web copy for the technology industry.