Author: Katharina Fröhlich
Apple, Danone, Mercedes and over 450 other brands have already done it in the first month. More brands are continuously following their lead: In the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, an increasing number of multinational brands have been pulling back their operations in Russia and hundreds of businesses are supporting philanthropic initiatives.
While the active engagement of brands in times of global crises has, for the most part, evoked appraisal from consumers, other brands such as McDonalds received resentments for their response or lack thereof, resulting in damages to the brand reputation.
As the pandemic has subsided from our awareness and the war in Ukraine is dominating the public discourse, brand and marketing officials find themselves confronted with just the second internationally impactful crisis in a short period of time and the same pressing questions: How can brands engage in successful crisis communication? What are appropriate ways to inform and empathise with affected publics? Which crisis communication strategies focus on solutions, not selling?
This blog post presents four hands-on approaches for successful crisis communication:
1. Start with empathy.
During crisis, people expect organisations to care. Successful crisis communication therefore demands brands to express empathy as an essential first step to build rapport with publics. The need for such emotional support comes from the human desire for emotional connections in times of hardship. People want to feel a response as much as they want to see a response. Empathetic crisis communication meets this desire as it enables brands to directly address and ratify feelings of emotional fragility, thereby supporting relationship building and brand credibility. For instance, brands who eased public fears and supported emotional coping of publics during the pandemic, were four times more likely to gain brand trust compared to others.
An empathetic crisis communication message contains two aspects: First, an acknowledgment of emotions felt by others and their circumstances as a sign of validation. Second, an active expression of emotions by the brand itself to display sincere emotional involvement and compassion.
2. Provide a timed response.
Complex global crises are connected to high levels of uncertainty. Secured information about causes and scope is rare and facts at hand are often ambiguous. Additionally, the direct consequences for brands, such as supply chain disruptions or product shortenings are unknown at the onset of the crisis.
Meanwhile, crises are also time-critical issues and demand a fast reaction to provide support for stakeholders. According to a recent study examining brand responses to the war in Ukraine, there is a strong correlation between the reaction time to a crisis and the positive reception by the public. Effectively, the research shows that brands with a shorter reaction time received more positive feedback compared to those responding slower.
As a result, brands should provide timely responses at the start of crisis and acknowledge the situational uncertainty by transparently stating what is known and what is unknown. In doing so, brands can boost
their own reputation as fastest responders and potentially redirect and specify given information when more or new evidence comes to light without losing credibility. In times of crisis where trust and transparency are critical, building up and protecting a good reputation is essential to a brand’s success.
3. Communicate how business continuity is ensured.
While global crises interfere with society at large, they also mess up the functioning of dominant operating models. During the Covid-19 pandemic, brands responded with a variety of actions to the disruption
of their business, which included shifting from physical stores to e-commerce, implementing hygiene measures to protect employees and consumers, or pursuing remote work.
Since the war in Ukraine, brands are withdrawing their operations in Russia, relocating their logistic network, and providing support for Ukrainian employees. Whatever measures brands adopt in crises, depending on the circumstances, their active and transparent communication towards stakeholders is essential for their success. Brands need to include a statement into their crisis communication that that highlights which operations are exactly impacted, which products and services are still available and which approaches are taken to ensure business continuity. By doing so, brands can prevent brand damage due liabilities created through unmet consumer expectations.
4. Be authentic in your solidaric engagement.
While acts of solidarity are generally perceived positively by the public, they can also evoke scepticism and feelings of hypocrisy among stakeholders. This is because often, brand contributions show no comprehensible connection to the brand identity and are consequently perceived as purpose-washing.
Since the war in Ukraine, brands have engaged in various acts of solidarity, including donations to NGOs, providing donations in kind to people in need or raising awareness on social media. To show stakeholders that their engagement is genuine, brands must adopt authentic crisis communication and actions. Indeed, consumers are more likely to react positively to brand contributions if there is a strong fit between the social cause and the brand’s purpose. Positive examples for authentic brand initiatives in crisis include Airbnb who offered free, short-term housing to up to 100.000 Ukrainian refugees, or Fedex who provided transportation of supplies and goods, as well as Deutsche Bahn who provided facilitated travel for Ukrainian refugees through free tickets.
It consequently is important for brands to design crisis communication messages that do not only give evidence about their engagement but also fit their core business and values.
Without a doubt, consumers worldwide will continue to expect brands to take a stand during complex global crises and to contribute to their resolution. By empathically addressing social issues. By reacting fast and determined. By clarifying the measures to sustain business. By engaging in authentic acts of solidarity.
What is your advice for a successful crisis communication? Send us a message under: firstname.lastname@example.org