Companies thrust into the spotlight in a time of crisis commonly respond by avoiding the issue or limiting themselves to damage control. But the reality is that a crisis can taint a brand over the long term. Therefore, the underlying motivation should be to shore up, if not rebuild, the brand so it might emerge from the crisis stronger than before.
Odwalla's approach took into account all the key constituents that judge a brand in a crisis: the public and customers; the investors questioning the company's stability; and employees who must weather the situation and are ultimately responsible for maintaining and delivering on the brand's credibility.
A crisis situation, while stressful and undesirable, if managed appropriately can deepen a brand's relationship with its customers and provide an opportunity to build its brand. This requires going beyond just the quick fixes of advertising or press releases to taking a more strategic approach to brand management, putting measures in place that will ensure the experiences and promises its brand aspires to and represents are delivered on. Some effective brand management tactics that can be implemented during a crisis situation (which should also be a core part of any strategically minded company) are outlined below:
Listen to, and understand, your customer's needs and concerns. During a crisis, a company's brand dominates the public's attention. Each affected customer segment (end-users, distributors, etc.) has different needs in light of the situation and what the brand represents to them. To regain credibility with its customers, Odwalla acted in a way it believed supported its "nourishment" mission and brand promise. It wasted no time in notifying distributors and pulling potentially tainted product from shelves. Within 72 hours, it launched its first Web site communicating all its actions and providing links to other information sources.
Identify a brand champion. Effective crisis and brand management clearly requires buy-in from all reaches of the company, far beyond just the marketing and public relations strategists. And it requires a brand champion. Ideally, this is the chief executive officer, the company's ultimate visionary and strategist, responsible not only for overseeing the success of the brand, but also protecting it in a time of dire need. At Odwalla, CEO Stephen Williamson and Chairman Greg Steltenpohl took on this role and, therefore, were instrumental in the brand's survival. Their public and private actions ranged from holding an immediate press conference and personally conducting media interviews, to Williamson's private (and unpublicized) visit with the family of the child who died and his attendance at her funeral.
Ensure that the entire organization is equipped to deliver on brand promises -- particularly in a crisis. Messaging is only half the battle. In Odwalla's situation, in addition to actively communicating with its customers via its Web site it, activated eight 800 numbers, operating 20 hours a day, seven days a week. The company believed that these actions would support its brand identity and core values -- honesty, integrity, respect -- and that its customers would expect nothing less.
After the worst of the crisis, Odwalla faced the brand-rebuilding process. For any organization facing this challenge, there are two critical components to rebuilding the brand:
Make the necessary operational and product changes to win back public confidence. In Odwalla's case, this was done through the decision, which was well-communicated to the public, to pasteurize its products that were at potential risk for contamination, like its carrot and apple juices. In making such changes, it's essential that they must permeate the organization and be evident across all customer touchpoints in order to be successful. This is where the real challenge lies.
Many organizations, like Odwalla, have survived dire crises and emerged with their brands intact -- if not stronger -- because they went beyond messaging and focused on delivering on the core, underlying promises of the brand. The proof can be illustrated by what one Odwalla customer and a victim of the E. coli breakout told a reporter: He wouldn't sue the company because it had done everything right.