When Brands Apologize, Customers Often Listen and Forgive

Happy customers are loyal customers. But what happens when “surprise and delight” is actually “surprise and incite”? Social media has raised the stakes for brands. Customers, most often angry ones, have a forum to air their grievances.

Happy customers are loyal customers. But what happens when “surprise and delight” is actually “surprise and incite”?

Social media has raised the stakes for brands. Customers, most often angry ones, have a forum to air their grievances. I see it constantly on Twitter, and have admittedly participated myself, when air travel goes terribly wrong or quality falls short of expectations.

The good news is that it’s recoverable.

Brands that react swiftly, thoughtfully, and transparently are the ones who win. And by win, I mean they don’t necessarily lose customers as a result of their actions, inaction or missteps.

This week alone, two retailers were seemingly insensitive to their female customers and perceived as body-shaming the very people they want to empower.

Macy’s

Macy’s was called out in one tweet that received 48,000 likes and 6,000 comments for plates by a company called Pourtions that were highly controversial for their message. Intended to bring humor to the concept of portion control, the dinner plates feature a large ring that read “Mom Jeans,” a smaller ring that read “Favorite Jeans,” and an even smaller ring that read “Skinny Jeans.”

Macy’s responded by apologizing and vowing to remove the plates from their stores. Of course, not everyone in the Twittersphere agreed with this decision. But it does show a sense of responsibility for its products and consideration for its customers.

Forever 21

Forever 21 also came under fire this week for sending Atkins bars in online orders with plus size merchandise. They’re not just good at fast fashion, but they also showed they can deliver a fast reaction.

In response to press coverage of the “snafu,” Forever 21 said:

“From time to time, Forever 21 surprises our customers with free test products from third parties in their e-commerce orders. The freebie items in question were included in all online orders, across all sizes and categories, for a limited time, and have since been removed. This was an oversight on our part and we sincerely apologize for any offense this may have caused to our customers, as this was not our intention in any way.”

In this case, I think the word “test” is a critical one. If Forever 21 had done some market research and testing, perhaps it would have learned that a partnership with a brand like Atkins, that is depicted as a diet company, could be detrimental to its brand perception.

Conclusion

The merchandise you sell, the partners you align with, the sites where your ads run, the people you hire, the way you respond to criticism — all of these decisions impact your customers and shape your brand identity.

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

Creating a One-Word Brand Statement

What do your customers think of when they see your organization name and logo? Your public image is important and should be up-to-date and fresh, especially during times of swift technology, cultural changes, and new generations. Every organization should go through a periodic review of how it is viewed and how it wants to be viewed by customers, donors and prospects.

What do your customers think of when they see your organization’s name and logo? Your public image is important and should be up-to-date and fresh, especially during times of swift technology, cultural changes, and new generations. Every organization should go through a periodic review of how it is viewed and how it wants to be viewed by customers, donors and prospects.

While sitting in an organization’s Board of Directors meeting last month, the topic came up of the desire to create a new logo. It had been the 1990s when it was last updated, and at that, it still had visual remnants of a decidedly 1970s feel. It was agreed a new logo should be developed, but it was also agreed that before going too far, a branding statement should be created to guide along the process more efficiently and result in a better outcome.

If you’re like many organizations, you might not have a branding statement. This isn’t to be confused with a mission statement (which can too often be filled with empty language that rings hollow to customers and staff).

A branding statement is a marketing tool. It reflects your organization’s reputation: what you are known for, or would like to be known for. It articulates how you stand apart from competitors. A branding statement is often written by individuals to define and enhance their own careers. If that’s of interest to you, adapt these steps and you can be on your way to creating your personal branding statement.

Today we launch into steps you can take to freshen your organization’s brand and image. This first installment will lay out five research and brainstorming steps to distill your image down to a single word. My next blog post, published in a couple of weeks, will focus on how to succinctly state your logical and emotional promise, both of which must be formulated in order to create a hard-working branding statement for your organization.

  1. Audience Research:
    Are you confident you accurately know the demographics, psychographics, and purchase behavior of your audience? If you’ve recently profiled or modeled your customers, then you probably have a good grasp of who they are. But if it’s been a year or longer, a profile is affordable and will yield a tremendous wealth of information about your customers. Demographics (age, income, education, etc.) are a good foundation. Knowing psychographics (personality, values, opinions, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles) takes you further. And knowing categories of purchase behavior enables you to drill down even further.
  2. Competitive Analysis:
    You can’t completely construct your own brand identity without understanding how your competitors position themselves. A competitive analysis can be conducted along two lines of inquiry: offline, such as direct mail and other print materials, along with what you can learn online. If you have print samples, you can discern much about a competitor’s marketing message. But you may not be able to pin down demographics, psychographics, and purchase behavior by looking at a direct mail package. There are a number of tools you can use online to deliver insights about your competition. Here are a few:
    • Compete.com offers detailed traffic data so you can compare your site to other sites. You can also get keyword data, demographics, and more.
    • Alexa.com provides SEO audits, engagement, reputation metrics, demographics, and more.
    • Quantcast.com enables you to compare the demographics of who comes to your site versus your competitors. You’ll be shown an index of how a website performs compared to the internet average. You’ll get statistics on attributes such as age, presence of children, income, education, and ethnicity.
  3. Interpretation and Insight:
    Now that you’ve conducted research, you’re positioned to interpret the data to create your own insights. This is where creativity needs to kick in and where you need to consider the type of individual who will embrace and advocate for your organization. You may want to involve a few people from your team in brainstorming, or perhaps you’ll want to bring in someone from outside your organization who can objectively look at your data. What’s key is that you peer below the surface of the numbers and reports. Transform facts into insights through interpretation. Use comparison charts and create personas. Then create statements describing who your best customers are.
  4. One-Word Description:
    Now the challenging work begins. Distill your interpretation and insight into one word that personifies your organization. Then think deeply about that word. Does it capture the essence of who you are (or want to become) and what your customer desires? For example, a technology company might use a word like “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” or “intuitive.” Car manufacturers might use a one-word description like “sleek,” “utilitarian,” or “safe” to describe their brand and what they want their customers to feel when they hear a brand’s name. You might think that by only allowing one word, you are short-changing everything about your organization’s image. It won’t. Finding the one word that describes your organization’s image will force you to focus.
  5. Reality Check:
    So now you’ve identified a word to describe your organization’s brand and image that resonates with both your team and your customers. It’s time for a reality check. Can your organization or product actually support that word? Or if it’s aspirational—that is, a word that you’d like your image to reflect in the future—is it achievable? And if it’s aspirational, what plans are in place to take it to reality?

My next blog will extend the important foundational work you’ve done working through these five steps. It will discuss how to look at your brand as it appeals to both logic and emotion, as well as credibility, uniqueness, and ultimately an example branding statement that you can use with your team. Watch for it in two weeks.

As always, your comments, questions, and challenges are welcome.

Talk to the (Twitter) Hand: The Perils of Non-Engagement

Every day, companies are jumping on the Twitter bandwagon—and perhaps, yours has done the same. Maybe it’s the lure of gaining new followers. Or possibly the attraction comes from all those Twitter success stories circulating the ‘Net. Or maybe it’s because Twitter takes five minutes to set up and doesn’t cost a dime. That’s OK, too. The thing is, many brands forget that Twitter is more than having a “who’s bigger” follower list or having the ability to Tweet pithy sales pitches.

Every day, companies are jumping on the Twitter bandwagon—and perhaps, yours has done the same. Maybe it’s the lure of gaining new followers. Or possibly the attraction comes from all those Twitter success stories circulating the ‘Net.

Or maybe it’s because Twitter takes five minutes to set up and doesn’t cost a dime. That’s OK, too.

The thing is, many brands forget that Twitter is more than having a “who’s bigger” follower list or having the ability to Tweet pithy sales pitches. Twitter is two-way communication, people. Not a one-sided soliloquy where you’re Tweeting solely for corporate self-gratification.

So let’s talk about two major brands that “get it” and use Twitter to its fullest potential. And then zero in on one company’s massive Twitter #fail.

Alaska Airlines and Starbucks give really good Tweets. When you read them, you get a sense that there is a person behind the computer—rather than a faceless corporate PR entity. In fact, Alaska Airlines even names the person handling the Tweets that day. And yes, their Tweets are more than just what these folks had for breakfast. For instance, Alaska Airlines promoted gift certificates and Starbucks previewed an upcoming sale on Cyber Monday (see the actual Tweets in the media player at right).

But here’s what makes both companies decidedly different: These brands engage with their customers. Starbucks and Alaska Airlines chat with their Twitter followers, answer questions and provide real-time customer service (see more examples in the media player).

Pretty cool, eh? And that’s why many people follow Alaska Airlines and Starbucks. The content is good, you know you’ll get a response and you’ll learn something. Maybe it’s early notification of a sale. Maybe it’s when in-flight wi-fi will be back. It’s useful information.

Let’s compare this to Citibank’s Twitter stream.

To say that Citibank has had reputation management issues in 2009 is putting it mildly. From taking bailout money to hiking credit card rates on some customers to 29.99 percent, the bank’s latest missteps have caused many good customers to cut up their cards. If there ever was a time for a robust social media campaign so people could “meet” the friendly customer service team members behind the scenes (that is, humanizing the corporation), now would be that time.

The good news is that Citibank has a Twitter account. The bad news is that it’s running it all wrong. Rather than using Twitter as a way to engage customers, the firm’s locking its customers out.

For instance, check out some Tweets mentioning @citibank in the media player, above, followed by a screen capture of Citibank’s Twitter page.

So, OK, let’s give Citibank the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it signed up for a Twitter handle to protect its brand identity—but doesn’t plan to leverage this account for some reason. You could almost forgive the bank … except for the Twitter account promoting the Citi Forward credit card (see the media player again, please).

Here are three problems:

  1. Although it will re-tweet, Citibank doesn’t answer Tweets (I tried)—so there’s no real interaction
  2. Saying that Citi Forward is “the card that rewards you for good behavior” seems a bit disingenuous considering that other Citibank customers with good credit histories have had their interest rates hiked to almost 30 percent.
  3. There’s no customer service component.

In short, Citibank is basically telling its Twitter followers to “talk to the hand” (or perhaps, its middle finger.) Rather than dealing with its reputation management issue head-on—communicating with folks and showing the human side behind the financial institution—Citibank is sending out Tweets that provide useful tips, yes … but talks AT its followers rather than WITH them.

If you’re planning a Twitter account (or currently maintaining one,) remember that Twitter is a real conversation (in 140 characters or less.) You wouldn’t keep a friend who constantly talked about herself, seemed oblivious to how other people perceived her and never listened to you.

It’s no different in the online world.

The perils of non-engagement in the Twitter universe are real—and the rewards for an excellent, interactive campaign are also real.

After all, what would you rather do? Tell people to talk to your Twitter hand or, instead, engage with your prospects and customers in a new, interactive (and profitable) way?

Seems to me, the choice is easy.