It’s not often that a brand can anger all sides of the political spectrum and take a financial hit but Bud Light managed to do that last week. And there has been a tremendous amount of analysis of the roots of the controversy as well as the response.
Some have called it a failure of marketing. Others have called the situation a failure of leadership both within the brand and throughout the company. Many in my circle tagged it as failed crisis management. The other arguments I’m not even going to mention and the threat of harm to employees is unconscionable.
At Kith, we’re not big on Monday morning quarterbacking so all I will say about the response is that it broke every rule and it ended exactly as one would expect when you throw the rulebook out the window. The company knows it, their PR and crisis agencies know it, and we all know it. Enough said.
For the root of the problem we need to go back a bit. I can’t tell you exactly when or how it happened, but the result tells me it did indeed happen something like this: an organizational problem ensured the company’s priorities were not well understood throughout the company and that their values were not clear, either internally or externally. This is not uncommon for large companies, but it is the catalyst to many a reputationally damaging misstep.
Here are some preventative measures you can take right now to be prepared for your next brand crisis.
Know Your Values
Every company has values – climate change, being family friendly or simply making shareholders money. Each of these is a value and guiding star. Your values are driven by who you answer to – board, shareholders, customers, employees. This is a feedback loop. Either the company’s leadership or the people they answer to establish a value, and the other responds – endorsing it, internalizing it, adapting it, evolving it. Then the initiator provides feedback, and the cycle continues.
All of it drives strategy. Or at least it should. The most authentic companies stay true to their values. Some are good at weaving their values into everything they do; Starbucks and Hobby Lobby come to mind. They live their values. Their values drive their business decisions and their brands. Most companies are not this good and also don’t know it.
So I am here to tell you: figure it out!
Having clarity in your values is a key element of your crisis response. If you can’t articulate your values on a sunny day, how are they going to guide you in a storm?
Know Who Your Stakeholders Are
Know your stakeholders and make sure everyone understands who they are. That means both the company and the stakeholders. If your most important stakeholders know you, then you can withstand any outside criticism because they will be with you.
Understand what personifies each group, how they relate to your company, what they care about and how they will react when faced with strategic changes.
Remember, your stakeholders can be customers but can also be employees, supply partners, boards and many others. Take time to really figure out who they are and what they value.
Broadcast Your Values
To everyone that matters. State your values. Repeat your values. Most importantly, live your values. If you say that diversity is a value, then you had better be diverse from your board of directors through your management to your supply chain and to your customers. Don’t just say you value diversity, demonstrate it.
Make it someone’s job to monitor your adherence to your values and give them the open lines of communication to alert executives when it becomes necessary. Speaking truth to power is critical. Management may not like to hear that it is falling short, but wouldn’t they rather hear it from a trusted confidant than an angry mob (or a falling stock price)?
Know Who’s on First
Having a solid understanding of the chain of command in a crisis not only reduces second guessing but also ensures everyone who needs to be part of the decision has been identified and consulted. The chain of command should show who reports to whom in the event of a crisis, who is responsible for what and how teams and departments interact. Detailing this should happen the day after you read this column, not the day something goes wrong.
Each of these elements make up our Kith Method. It’s the framework we use to help organizations build a responsive, superior crisis preparation and mitigation capability. If you don’t know where to start within your organization, we have a proven process for gaining clarity on values, trust in people and processes and speed in crisis response. We’d love to have a conversation about how your organization can become crisis confident.