During tough times, we’d like to think that, like friends, the brands we love are there for us too. Or, at the very least not offending us. There’s clear evidence now demonstrating that brands that aimed to capitalize on the Sandy natural disaster saw some really devastating results, while those that behaved as “good citizens” won peoples’ hearts and minds in ways that marketing never could. How companies respond during disasters or times of crisis has lasting effects. It’s very difficult to rebound from a big fail. On the flip side, the right behaviors earn long-term loyalty. Brands that choose to abstain from the conversation altogether are also doing themselves a disservice.
I poked around in Dachis Group’s Social Performance Monitor software to see how some post-Sandy social activities correlated to and impacted brand outcomes.
American Express Displays Good Citizenship
American Express posted conservative yet caring messaging and evidence of community outreach and support in a coordinated fashion on several of their social properties resulting in an overwhelmingly positive ripple effect.
Their posts in social media over the course of several days illustrated that sincerity and commitment and were appreciated by the affected communities and beyond through Likes, shares and comments.
Duracell’s Post-Sandy Impact Will Last Longer
Duracell really went the extra mile. Beyond condolences and solidarity, they offered some real service and value to storm victims with urgent needs. Duracell leveraged social media to inform the public about where their phone charging vans and centers were located. It must have taken some heavy cross-departmental coordination to organize this effort and communicate it effectively across media channels.
Their efforts earned them a huge boost in brand sentiment for their activities in the aftermath of #Sandy.
American Apparel Disconnected from the USA
American Apparel’s botched and now infamous social promotion exploiting #Sandy generated public and media outcry and resulted in very negative outcomes for the brand. Like many retailers in afflicted areas they saw shopping slow to a halt. However, they were clearly not thinking about their audience’s mindset and appetite for shopping when offering shopping deals with the coupon code SANDYSALE.
Again, evidence from Dachis Group’s SPM software clearly indicates that brand satisfaction plummeted as a result of this misstep.
And sentiment around the brand was deeply negative. The predominantly red area surfaces negative sentiment around when Sandy hit. The negative sentiment continued to plague the brand for weeks post-Sandy despite an official apology.
Living Social’s Dud Deals
Another example of poor taste and execution is Living Social’s heavily discounted offers for vacations to Sandy afflicted destinations. A more sensitive and positive approach would have been to arrange a fundraiser for afflicted destinations or even an acknowledgement that purchasing packages for these venues would help them rebuild. A very slight shift in execution would have turned a poor response into a win for the brand, the afflicted and customers.
Lessons Learned from Brand Blunders
The good news is that we can learn from these marketing blunders. In times of crisis, brands need to put aside business objectives and behave as citizens first by showing empathy and concern across business units and social channels. AMEX was exemplary in this way.
Next, brands have the opportunity to understand what people, and not necessarily just customers, need in a time of crisis and use their enormous resources to help out. Social surveys and monitoring tools are an incredibly powerful way to do this.
Lastly — and this is where there is true opportunity for brands to emerge as heroes – brands need to be themselves by mobilizing around how they are uniquely able to support and serve the public best. Duracell was a true leader in this way. Duracell’s brand positioning is all about providing power under the most dire of circumstances, which makes their decision to provide charging stations both critically important and 100% aligned to their brand goals. Living Social had an opportunity to do the same with their travel deals, but didn’t take a sufficiently thoughtful approach.
Unfortunately, Sandy won’t be the last disaster we are all confronted with. Brands need to start thinking today about how they want to react to storms tomorrow. Here is a quick checklist to ensure you are ready to respond the next time there is an unforeseen turn of events:
- Have a social strategy and action plan in place that provides best practices for responding to disasters and public crisis. Ensure that your approach is unique and befitting your organization and offering. Remaining absent from the topic is not an option. Ensure that copy/content samples are provided for best and worst practices.
- Have the right workflow and approvals in place for social content development and publishing – especially for content that is not part of a planned content calendar.
- Identify the business units that require coordination and planning in event of a crisis.
- Stay on top of your brand’s performance in social media and monitor every post in real time and keep track of what works.
- Have a social response and correction plan in place.
As a final note, I’ve curated a Pinterest board of brand responses to the storm. If you want to learn more about how brands handled this calamity, feel free to check it out and provide feedback.