We Are Communication Architects

Building brand awareness through content creation and community engagement.

February 10th, 2011

Learn, Don’t Scold

Did you hear the one about how a months-old video about pain medication was suddenly the most offensive thing on the internet? Or the one about how a retail brand changing its logo was going to disenfranchise a large chunk of their consumer base? Or the new one about the coupon company that ran a Super Bowl commercial poking fun at itself but whose message was read as disrespectful to charity causes?

These and countless other stories are the type that will rattle around the marketing/PR/comms blogs for a couple weeks as everyone chimes in with their own perspectives on how this or that company has bungled their messaging. This will include mention of how the follow-up blog post did or didn’t adequately address the issue and what it means for the company long-term. A few of these commentators will make a big deal about how they’ve canceled their memberships or will never shop there again, extrapolating that indignation out to be representative of some mass consumer upheaval that will forever impact the company’s bottom line.

While there are surely some issues that will resonate with actual consumers – the kinds who are more concerned with the price of a package of napkins versus its competitors as opposed to whether or not the company is having an “authentic” online conversation – most of them mean more to those of us in the industry. We love to dissect every little misstep in dozens of different ways, secretly hoping that if we ever find ourselves as the subject of scrutiny then the hivemind we’ve helped contribute to will cut us some slack and not butcher our mistakes.

In a year or so – probably more like six months – these sorts of mistakes and offenses will be largely forgotten by most people who aren’t actively looking for case studies for their upcoming books or presentations. Some customers may walk away in disgust but they’ll likely be quickly replaced by new ones and any down tick will just be a blip on a line chart.

It’s better to study these sorts of incidents as a professional and see what the real lesson it has to teach is – all of that being done offline – than to add to the continuous cacophony of criticism that follows in the 72 hours after some new offense has occurred. That might mean your personal brand as an “expert” isn’t quite as polished as someone else’s but it also means that down the road you’re going to better be able to steer your clients or company clear of potholes others have fallen into.

All that’s not to say that substantive damage is never done through communication or marketing mistakes. There are plenty of examples of companies that have either created or worsened crisis situations. But there are also examples of cases where the “crisis” is largely one that resonates almost solely within the chattering class and doesn’t have much, if any, impact on the everyday customers or users of a brand or service.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

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