Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Proactive or Preemptive Relationship Management (How the Domino's Fiasco Could Have Averted)

By now many of you have either seen or heard about the infamous YouTube video that was posted by two Domino's employees, and the response video that was posted by the company's US President. This begs a curious investigation into what crisis or issue management really means, and the major difference between reactive positioning, and proactive or preemptive relationship management.

In watching the employee-posted video, if you put aside the sheer idiocy and disregard for human decency, you can also see a clear desire to self-express. The female employee even qualifies this at the beginning by saying how bored she is. The other male employee, a gay man, makes a couple of references to his sexual orientation and makes it clear that he is frustrated in his own way. Does this excuse their actions? Certainly not. But it does make a case for the notion that these impostors could have just as easily been evangelists if they were truly empowered to do so. By simply giving them a voice.

When you look at the internal branding efforts from companies like American Express (OPEN), Pfizer (Health Solutions) and Dell (several programs), you realize that empowering employees to express themselves gives the brand unprecedented access to new levels of sentiment. Further, when you look at the fact that people are thrilled just to be a part of brand exchanges, you also realize that negative perceptions can be reshaped through transparent conversation. For example, over 95% of all WOM conversations, no matter how negative the sentiment was going in, inevitably turn towards the positive by simply acknowledging the consumer or employee.

So, what does this really mean? It means a few things:

- Give employees and consumers an intranet and extranet platform to speak their minds before a crisis like Domino's happens; you can respond accordingly, and best case scenario, you can develop them into superusers and "uber" brand evangelists.

- Filter out "deconstructive" elements from sheer negative ones, and keep those touch-points alive throughout ongoing conversations so that brand perception can build up its own equity in an authentic way.

- Give the public "shades of the bad"; acknowledgment and accountability breeds credibility; like people, brands are imperfect and are entitled to act imperfectly, provided they own up to it when they do.

- Use a debate context within the organization - opposing sides - to enlist and engender points of view on the outside. Arguing is good, provided there are solutions available.

So, outfit your employees with cameras. Teach them to blog. Encourage them to tweet. Give them channels of expression that allow them to not only share their insights, but build community ties around them. That way, as a brand, it's likely you'll never find yourself having to apologize for something you didn't advocate in the first place.

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