What Can We Learn From United Airlines?

“Taking a step back” isn’t just for big brands in crisis. Anyone who manages a brand can apply this thinking.

Normally I would say to get out in front of a brand crisis. “Take the lead and control the messaging,” is the advice I would normally give to a brand facing an issue in reputation management.

But in the case of United Airlines and their recent woes (as well as some other brands), I instead say to take a step back. Sure, there should still be communication on a timely and proactive basis, because “going dark” in these situations wouldn’t be a smart move. But on a parallel path, I would recommend that any brand take a step back and examine its policies and procedures to try to stop these kinds of issues from forming in the first place.

“Taking a step back” isn’t just for big brands in crisis. Anyone who manages a brand can apply this thinking. Here are some thoughts:

Examine Your Policies: We are finding lately that company policies are potentially creating these situations of conflict. With different policies in place, perhaps these conflicts wouldn’t be happening. Maybe that’s purposeful, but if that’s not the case then the company should examine and potentially change those policies in question. In some cases they may just be outdated, or not in line with newly evolved norms for an industry. Take a hard look.

Align Them With Your Brand Offering: While reviewing those company policies, make sure that they still align with what your brand is all about. If not, then change them. And perhaps even more importantly, make sure they align with your customers’ expectations. If not, then make a conscious decision about making them align. For example, if your brand is all about supreme customer service and your customers have high expectations, then your policies had better put your customers’ needs first. I would always advocate putting your customers first.

Train Your Employees: Stating the obvious here, but it’s vitally important to not only let your employees know about said policies, but also train how to enforce and flex them. They should be given a certain amount of latitude in how they apply them. We’ve seen how much strict adherence can create situations that can damage the brand. Give your employees some space and let them become brand ambassadors as well as policy enforcers. Let them make their own good decisions.

Marketing is a spectator sport. There’s a lot to be learned watching the activity of other brands, particularly when it comes to upholding your image and reputation. 

We’ve been learning a lot of that lately.