Your core sales and marketing message is supposed to be evergreen. Sure, some details may change. But at the heart of your message is a fundamental brand positioning that should stand the test of time. You repeat it over and over again – to employees, customers, and the kid next door – so it becomes the one thing your company is known for. In a perfect world, this is easy. But what if something goes wrong with your company or solution that threatens to undermine your message?
Now for the bad news.
Bad news happens. It can be the sudden discovery of a weakness in your product … the arrival of a new disruptor in your market … anything. Sometimes even good news for your company is interpreted as bad news by your customers: a merger, a change in leadership, the discontinuation of an outdated product line. Whenever this happens, you’ve got a critical choice to make.
Ignore it or own it?
Since no one wants to be the bearer of bad news, the temptation is to ignore it – or at least, never quite get around to talking about it. Sales and marketing leaders are especially susceptible to this (it’s in their nature to keep things positive, and they should). But if you’re reluctant to tell customers what’s really going on, they’ll find out from your competitors or the rumor mill instead. And this always makes bad news worse. What’s the best way to handle bad news?
Always communicate bad news through the lens of your core message.
Let’s say you’ve built your core sales and marketing message around reliability. Suddenly, a product of yours turns out to be less than reliable. What do you do? Drop your core message?
No. If you change your core message every time a new problem pops up, no one will ever know what your company stands for. This means that if you built your core message on, say, reliability and something goes wrong, you still have to keep talking reliability – now more than ever. You create communications that restate your commitment to reliability and show how you can be “relied on” to do whatever it takes to make things right.
How a client of ours overcame a threat to their core message.
We had a client whose promise of manufacturing quality was being threatened by some underperforming plants. Instead of backing away from their “quality” message, they doubled down on it. They talked about it to everyone, everywhere. But they also backed it up with a meaningful guarantee, brought in top operational talent to help reduce manufacturing defects, and made significant investments in those underperforming plants. They proved (to employees as well as to customers) that their core message was a deeply held value and not just meaningless marketing fluff.
Let’s look at another example.
Suppose your core message were built on “speed”, but a series of missteps made you look slow and unresponsive. How would you communicate this bad news through the lens of your core message? You could restate your commitment to speed and announce a “speedy” fix to the problem. You might have to explain that you’re working on a solution that will take some time now, but will save customers much more time in the long run. In the meantime, you could also promise “speedy” same-day responses to any questions customers have. Whatever you do to solve the problem, you would keep tying those actions back to your core promise of speed.
The good news about bad news.
Responses like these show your marketplace that you’re not ignoring the problem. You’re not trying to spin the problem. You’re simply drawing on the values expressed in your core message to solve the problem. Stay on message even when things go wrong, and you prove that your core sales and marketing message is more than just words.
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