The COVID-19 pandemic has been a trying time both personally and professionally for many. But what’s important to remember is that the way we conduct ourselves and our businesses during this time will live long past the period of disease outbreak.
Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban was quoted just last week regarding his take on company action during the coronavirus pandemic:
“How companies respond … is going to define their brand for decades. If you rushed in and somebody got sick, you were that company. If you didn’t take care of your employees or stakeholders and put them first, you were that company.”
Brand Management and Crisis Communications
Last week, one simple tweet led to public shame of a well-known Toronto grocer. Further still, it lit a fire under the Ontario government to develop legislation against price gouging.
— David Spodek (@DavidSpodek) March 25, 2020
Normally on the shelves for somewhere in the range of five to seven dollars (and available at local dollar stores for even less), upscale grocery chain Pusateri’s ticketed Lysol disinfecting wipes for $29.99 plus tax.
Although the tweet didn’t necessarily “go viral” if you judge the content by its key engagement metrics, it goes to show that tagging the right people at the right time can have a huge impact with big brand implications.
By grabbing the attention of the city’s top politicians and media outlets, it didn’t take long for the story to find its way to the office of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, resulting in new price gouging legislation.
Brands and businesses with issues management policies might consider a social media user’s “clout” when determining how to best respond in a similar situation, but it’s important not to discount the reach that a simple public tweet can have in a short amount of time.
There are parallels that can be drawn between this story and a story from 2004 that made its way to the front page of the New York Times. It took just one simple post from a bike enthusiast in an online forum to render a 50-year-old lock design useless – leading to crisis management ramifications for one company.
By cutting four small slits in the end of a pen’s barrel, expensive Kryptonite bike locks could be opened easily, warned Bike Forums user Chris Brennan.
“Your brand-new U-Lock is not safe,” warned Brennan. The bike locks, which claimed resistance to bolt cutters, hammers, saws, and chisels, was deemed “worthless” by a small piece of plastic.
A Lesson in Public Apology
Kryptonite responded by rushing to market a more secure design and shared details on how customers could upgrade… at their own cost.
Not only is the situation important in that it highlights how NOT to treat your customers during a crisis, it’s also a lesson in public apology.
Following the public backlash related to product pricing, Pusateri’s issued a statement claiming it was nothing more than an oversight under the extreme working conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the statement could be true, it wasn’t well-received online and came across as insincere to many. Some members of the local community suggested Pusateri’s apology would have gone much further had they made a donation to a COVID-19 relief program to show their sincerity.
As entrepreneurs and business owners, let’s use this time as an opportunity to give back and support our communities the best ways we know how.