04 June 2015 11:49:46 IST

Brands such as Maggi under fire

The biggest crisis brands face today is the onslaught on social media and an inability to handle it

Mike Isaacson said: “Brands are like pieces of fine crystal - they take time to create and are easy to break"

Maggi, the two-minute wonder that has been hailed in marketing and business school circles as one of the biggest successes in Indian business history, is suddenly under a cloud. It is alleged to contain MSG and lead beyond permissible levels and its sales have plummeted across the country. See link

Maggi is not the first brand to come into crisis, nor will it be the last. I am sure you all remember the trouble that Pepsi faced in the country and the even bigger problems that Cadburys faced with worms in the chocolate and its elaborate campaign of its new tamper-proof packaging featuring Amitabh Bachchan which had the effect of rescuing the tottering brand and restoring credibility. Click to see this video.

Let’s step back a little and study this whole business of crises as brands seem to lurch from one crisis to the other with the same ease with which swift-footed batsmen take cheeky singles in T20 matches.

Brands take time to build

One of the things that we must remember is that brands are not built overnight. They take time, effort, strategy and resources to build. Pepsi, one of the brands we spoke about earlier, is a brand that is more than a hundred years old. And yet it does not take much to throw it into a crisis and that crisis can affect credibility and impact sales and market share.

And yet there is another twist to the tale today. If you analyse some of the biggest brand crises of those days whether it was Tylenol, Pepsi or Cadburys that we spoke about they were much smaller crises than what brands face today. That was simply because these crises were played out on mainline media like print and TV which though they had tremendous impact, were still restricted to the countries they were circulated in. Today, however, thanks to the social media and the power of Facebook and Twitter these crises can really snowball. Look at this on Maggi where in the early days of the crisis Nestle had handled it poorly on social media. The results are already beginning to show.

So what must brands do?

One of the first realities of modern business is the realisation that some crisis or the other is inevitable as far as brands are concerned. Maybe the scale of the crisis might vary, but it is probably lurking around the corner.

This leads me to the next question and arguably the most important one. What should brands do? Do you remember the old Scouts motto? Yes it is “be prepared” and brands must really prepare for battle. How do you prepare for battle? You try to predict where and how the enemy will attack. Borrowing the same logic, smart companies have contingency plans for every crisis. What could the possible crisis be? A factory could catch fire, people could die in an accident, there could be a sexual harassment case in your office, there could be a safety or health hazard in the products you make, dangerous effluents from your plant might raise the hackles of the community… The list is endless and savvy companies list out these exhaustively and start working on a damage control plan.

Crises can be tackled and their intensity can be reduced. Today one of the biggest challenges is on social media. We have seen enough instances of the crisis that an off the cuff comment or statement can make on social media. Here is a whiff of a future crisis that I read in today’s newspaper about an Uber driver kissing a passenger

Damage control is key

I am not sure Maggi has handled this crisis well though it was brewing for some time now. It is important for companies to respond quickly and yet not hastily. It helps to express regret or sympathy particularly where people are involved. The Public Relations company should work overtime to get the company off the headlines and from the tickers in TV channels. If the headline were to read “Taxi driver caught kissing passenger” is better for Uber than to have its name in this condemning headline.

The company must have its version ready or what we call as a holding statement. It must have only one spokesperson talk to the media. It must be always available for comments and questions. When there is an accident or trouble at the factory, it would be advised to hold media briefings away from the venue preferably at a neutral avenue. More than traditional media the challenge as stated earlier is manifold in the social media and today more and more companies have full-time experts handling their online reputation. Yes brands are like fine pieces of crystal. Don’t be casual about the way you handle them otherwise years of hard work and investment will just go down the tube in “two minutes”.

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