It is essential that corporations have dependable communication structures in place. The last thing a business wants is to fail to communicate its position properly. Unfortunately, many large corporations have really dropped the ball while working with their customers.
Communication Failure 101
We take communication for granted. Each day, we talk to co-workers, customers, family, and friends without thinking too much about whether our communication styles are successful. But this isn't a good business strategy. Tons of companies -- even the biggest and most profitable -- suffer when communication fails.
Communication failures happen when:
Companies don't think clearly about how their audience will perceive a marketing message or new product.
Companies refuse to be transparent and explain what went wrong, rather than owning up to things and making them right.
Companies don't plan. Sometimes, companies offer promotions without having an adequate plan in place for dealing with volume.
Companies forget about why customers love them. Sometimes, brands forget the real reason why customers keep coming back to them, and change their products without thinking clearly about the ramifications.
Here are some of the biggest communication failures brands have made:
Toyota Product Recalls. When Toyota finally decided to recall millions of cars due to faulty brakes, it was already too late. After downplaying the problem for as long as possible, their hand was forced when Consumer Reports withdrew their recommendations of 8 Toyota vehicles. Although the situation was eventually fully handled, failing to accept responsibility from the outset affected how customers perceived Toyota's brand.
Fictitious Chevrolet Nova in South America. Have you heard the story about how GM made a simple but disastrous mistake when they tried to introduce the Nova in Latin America? They thought they could use the same brand name they used in the United States. They couldn't figure out why no one wanted it until they learned it translated in Spanish to 'No-go.' Here's a tip: this story never actually happened but the urban legend is believed by millions!
BP's Oil Spill. BP caused the legendary oil spill that stretched across the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Their PR strategy included airing a number of expensive commercials and apologizing at every chance they got--something the public found disingenuous. Ultimately, they received criticism from President Obama and others, who said the money they put into the ads should have been put into cleaning up the mess. Tony Hayward of BP also made the fatal mistake of saying he wanted his life back, which showed a blatant lack of respect for those who had actually lost their lives in the explosion.
Phillips Morris Says Smoking Deaths Good. In 1999, Phillips Morris commissioned a study on the economic effects of smoking in the Czech Republic and came up with a 'surprising' conclusion. The company argued that premature deaths due to smoking were, on balance, a positive thing, because the government saved money on health care and pensions. Needless to say, millions of people were strongly offended by the crassness of their study.
Cartoon Network Causes Boston Bomb Scare. Cartoon Network once undertook a guerrilla marketing campaign that involved placing suspicious looking LED devices around Boston to promote one of their TV shows. When residents mistakenly believed the LED characters were actually bombs, any upside to their campaign was quickly lost, as was the job of then Cartoon Network boss Jim Samples.
KFC Coupon Riots. KFC worked closely with Oprah Winfrey to promote a new line of chicken. When Oprah offered free coupons on her website, KFC didn't properly estimate the overwhelming response the 'Oprah Effect' would create. Customers were understandably angry when they didn't get their free chicken, and KFC had to reimburse them with rain checks.
Domino's Employees Disgusting YouTube Video. A couple of immature Domino's employees made a disgusting YouTube video of themselves defiling a pizza that they were supposedly going to send out to a customer. Even after firing the two employees and issuing an apology, Domino's reputation was a casualty of the prank.
Coca-Cola Releases New Coke. Coca-Cola decided to launch a campaign to keep up with Pepsi, a new rival at the time. They declared that they were launching a new Coke brand in hopes of keeping themselves looking fresh and better than ever. Unfortunately, customers didn't want a new brand of Coke and began hording existing beverages. The company quickly back peddled and brought back original Coke, but the damage to their brand was done.
How to Prevent Communication Failure
Marketing and public relations are tricky things to get right. Even some of the biggest companies in the world send the wrong messages and have to pay the piper when their customers get upset.
You can do two thins to prevent communication failure at your company:
Think very carefully about new products and services you're introducing and how they will effect your customers. Plan, plan, plan.
If something does go wrong, take action before things get out of control. Be transparent, clear, and put yourself in your customers shoes. Do whatever it takes to make things right.
It is best to be very careful about how you pursue customer relations and acknowledge that even small mistakes can have major consequences, and then take action before things get out of hand.
Have another epic failure of communication? Share it in the comments below!