Turning lemons into lemonade

Even if your brand has never gone through a recall, you can probably imagine what a painful and negative experience the first one can be.

Even if your brand has never gone through a recall, you can probably imagine what a painful and negative experience the first one can be. But what if you face multiple recalls? Even under this type of intense pressure, you still have the opportunity to turn the recall around and create something positive from it.

Let's look at three ways to transform a recall into a business builder:

Reconnect with your audience
As you're no doubt aware, Toyota has faced several major recalls in the past year.

Despite some missteps, the company responded in a way that helped it reconnect with its customers. In addition to ads and information on the Toyota website, the company sent every customer a written notification of the recall and how to proceed. Many Toyota actually drove to customers' homes to pick up the affected cars themselves.

Considering the measures taken, it's not that surprising that in February of this year Toyota sales surged 42%, the most in a decade.

Set new standards
LEGO may not be the first brand you think of when you think of recalls. That's probably because in 2010 they achieved their long-standing goal of zero product recalls for the year.

As a company that does business in multiple nations, LEGO has been active in creating international standards for toy safety. The company chairs the European Committee for Standardization in the area of toy safety. In addition, last November LEGO partnered with three other toy manufacturers to sponsor an assembly for expanding ISO TC 181, the existing standard for toy safety.

Evolve the brand
Last summer, McDonald's featured a promotional tie-in with the latest Shrek movie. When the fast-food giant discovered that the Shrek-themed glasses were contaminated with cadmium, the company not only recalled the 7.5 million glasses sold, but also paid customers to return them.

In the end, customers not only felt like they got a financial bonus, they felt McDonald's cared about their health, a remarkable achievement for a fast-food company often accused of being an enabler of America's obesity epidemic. McDonald's has since seen its sales continue to increase around the country.

Of course, none of these outcomes would have been possible if these companies had not partnered with their agencies to create a fully integrated effort that encompassed the way they positioned the recall and how they communicated about it to their customers. They followed their agency's advice to reach out to their customers over and over again through all available channels, they were intent on doing the right thing, and their messages were nimble, disciplined, and consistent.

We would never go so far as to call any recall a blessing in disguise. They take a lot out of companies financially and emotionally. But as the saying goes: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” You'll come out of the process with a stronger business.

Sophie Ann Terrisse is CEO and founder of STC Associates.

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