Positioning Crisis to Look Like a Clever Plan

It’s the holidays. And winter weather. Anything can happen to the best of our marketing plans, along with product or service delivery, no matter what time of year. So what is your plan if your biggest product shipment, event or other signature aspect of your organization is snared in a dizzying downward spiral because of circumstances out of your control? And how do you respond so, in the end, the boss says

It’s the holidays. And winter weather. Anything can happen to the best of our marketing plans, along with product or service delivery, no matter what time of year. So what is your plan if your biggest product shipment, event or other signature aspect of your organization is snared in a dizzying downward spiral because of circumstances out of your control? And how do you respond so, in the end, the boss says, “Your actions give the impression that this was a clever plan all along.”

If you’re like many direct marketing organizations, you don’t feel you have time to plan for crisis. As many of our long-time followers know, we do pro bono work for a performing arts organization in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The first weekend of December was to be the group’s annual Christmas Shows, and for the first time in its history, the entire region was iced in. Three out of four performances had to be cancelled—at the last minute. They have been rescheduled, but we focused on one thing at a time through the scheduling crisis.

With that fresh experience behind us—and the lessons we learned about how to successfully keep ticket cancellations and refunds to a minimum—we offer these 10 recommendations that, someday, you may need to use in a crisis:

  1. The Customer Comes First There will be anguish about cancelling a delivery, event and more. But the customer’s personal safety, expectations and experience must come first. They will remember how you handled a crisis for years.
  2. Present a Solution, Not a Problem Foster a culture in your organization so that no one drops a problem at your footsteps and doesn’t offer a solution. Encourage problem solving and solution offering. If you’re not all in the same physical location, get on the phone. Email and texts are a lousy way to encourage dynamic creativity and solve problems.
  3. Communicate Internally First. In crisis mode, it’s easy to think the customer must be notified first. Our experience: internal decisions must be communicated to everyone inside the organization first because there will be those on your staff who are posting on Facebook or Twitter. They’re intent is good, they want to help. But if they have any detail wrong, it can confuse and damage your reputation.
  4. Be Transparent and Truthful. Your customers, patrons and donors deserve the unvarnished truth. In our case, the reason for cancellation was obvious. But customers deserve to know that you’re working on solutions. Tell them what you’re doing through social media and via email.
  5. Empower One Individual to Push the Messaging Buttons. This isn’t to say that others shouldn’t help implement the plan. The point is that one person calls the messaging shots and gives direction so your organization (including the top) speaks with one voice.
  6. Update Your Website Minute to Minute. Watch your analytics reports and you’ll see quite quickly that your customers will look at your website first. Have it update-to-date by the minute. Use in-your-face graphics, in a prime location on the home page, with your announcement.
  7. Mobilize Communications Immediately. In the old days, we would have done our best to make thousands of phone calls. Thankfully today, email and social media can get out the word quickly. Email segmentation allowed us to pinpoint exactly which patrons were directly impacted, and they were sent an email (without distracting thousands who are on the email list but not affected).
  8. Constantly Monitor Social Media. Social media announcements of this magnitude spread in minutes. If you have staff or volunteers, tell them exactly what you should say. Often your customer wants to help you and spread your message for you. Give them the information. Then monitor comments so you can answer questions and clarify misinformation.
  9. Enhance Your Product Once Delivered. Most likely your product is, well, your product. It can’t be changed. But you can include a gift or bonus for the inconvenience. Or make light of the situation through messaging and give your customers an even better experience.
  10. Stay Calm and Carry On. The best compliment you can receive after the worst is behind you is, “Your actions give the impression that this was a clever plan all along.” How do you build successful teams? Foster an encouraging, solution-driven culture. And don’t permit your organization to become paralyzed in the decision-making process.

Hopefully you’ll never have to manage a crisis. We don’t want to have to ever do this again.

If you’re curious about how the messaging was handled for this organization, you can read the details here through the end of December.

What’s On a Retail CMO’s To-Do List?

Focusing on their customers and setting the right expectations for their CEO when it comes to marketing plans are just two of the many priorities chief marketing officers at retail companies are putting on their to-do lists for the remainder of 2011.

Focusing on their customers and setting the right expectations for their CEO when it comes to marketing plans are just two of the many priorities chief marketing officers at retail companies are putting on their to-do lists for the remainder of 2011.

This information was gleaned from a session titled “CMO/SVP Panel: Uncovering a CMO’s To-Do List” at eTail 2011 in Boston this week. Kevin Conway, global director of consumer brands at Savvis; Matt Corey, chief marketing officer of Golfsmith; Lou Weiss, chief marketing officer of The Vitamin Shoppe; Bill Wood, vice president and chief information officer at Brookstone; and Jim Wright, senior vice president of e-commerce and customer marketing at Express, discussed their remainder-of-2011 goals and priorities.

“We’re focused on four specific pillars right now,” said Express’ Wright. “Driving e-commerce, growing the international side of our business, improving our brand for existing stores and opening more stores across the U.S.”

In addition, Wright said he’s focusing on how to integrate the Express brand across channels, optimizing return on investment from marketing programs, and understanding how Express customers shop in-store and applying that information to mobile applications.

“The customer has more control than ever before,” Wright said. “We have to conduct focus groups, ask them what they want from their experience with us, then make those changes.”

Most of the time, Express customers want their shopping experience to be like what they get on Amazon.com. The good news is that “they’re willing to get that experience if they give a little,” Wright said.

Focusing on the customer is also at the top of Brookstone’s Bill Wood’s to-do list. “If we understand our customers better, we’ll understand how to speak with them,” he said. “Two-way communication is important.”

In addition, Brookstone has “eight to 10 initiatives on our plate right now for our website, including video,” Wood said.

For Matt Corey of Golfsmith, setting the right customer expectations about the brand’s marketing plans is top of mind. “All CEOs today are asking their CMOs, ‘What’s the value of a customer on Facebook?’ We just say we’re going to test it, measure it and then decide.”

When discussing marketing programs with your CEO, use “Peter Rabbitt English,” Corey said. This is his term for using basic, plain speech with them. “Don’t use terms they don’t understand. Instead, tell a story.”

Of course, focusing on the customer is also key for Golfsmith. “We have a great online community called the 19th Hole that we turn to all the time for insight,” Corey said. “We ask them about anything from brand messaging to store experiences to taglines. What do they like? What don’t they like?”

What’s more, Corey added, “these types of communities are cool and cost effective. We’re spending less than $75,000 for an entire year to find out what our customers want. That’s a lot less than the cost of small focus groups.”

For Vitamin Shoppe’s Lou Weiss, his primary focus is on the brand’s already successful loyalty program.

“Now we’re trying to figure out how to evolve our loyalty program by integrating it with our social programs, stores and website,” Weiss said.

Another focus? Growing The Vitamin Shoppe’s marketing team. “We’re looking for experts in interactive and social marketing,” he told the audience.

For Kevin Conway of Savvis, his current focus is on cloud computing. “We’re working with several software vendors on putting their applications in our cloud,” he said. “Once in the cloud, the applications can be turned on and off easily to accelerate your business.”

What are some of your 2011 end-of-year priorities? Let me know by posting a comment below.