This paper aims to provide insights into the what, why, and how of recognising corporate brand crisis through a synthesis of organisational experiences with threats to brand reputation, and to offer guidelines for analytic approaches and suggested organisational actions.
The approach takes the form of a clinical set of examinations and interpretation of a substantial number of recognised corporate brand crisis situations. The analysis and suggested approaches in the paper have been tested with corporate executives and communications counselors in classrooms and private applied situations.
The main points are: reputational trouble can come in many forms, from many sources and many publics; the most serious situations are those that affect the distinctive attribute/characteristic – “the essence of the brand” – most closely associated with the brand's meaning and success. A number of specific examples illustrate this point. However, past and present corporate behaviour is the most significant element in a crisis situation. Authenticity plays a key role in building, sustaining, and defending reputation. From analysis of many corporate brand crisis experiences the paper finds that forthrightness in communications and substantive credible responses in the form of behaviour are most likely to restore trust and rescue a brand in crisis. The most important actions, however, are those taken to build a “reputational reservoir” as a strong foundation for corporate reputation.
Research on reputational troubles is rarely based on documented information from inside the affected/afflicted organization. Except when companies have successfully overcome such situations (such as Johnson and Johnson in the Tylenol tragedy), internal information is typically unavailable. Examination of media coverage and informal discussions with former executives can be mitigating substitutes.
The principal implications relate to: how an organization can assess the seriousness of an actual or prospective situation affecting its brand reputation; suggested approaches to the value and use of corporate communications and the salience of authenticity; and suggested actions in the face of brand crisis.
The paper provides an analytic approach to assessing the seriousness of threats to organisational brand reputation. It also examines actual reputational troubles in the context of corporate‐level marketing and corporate communications; and draws on extensive case studies and seminars in this area with experienced executives.
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