How does one maintain a positive message when a product is realigned or even ceases to exist? If a business line is unwinding, how does one gracefully support it while acknowledging its demise?
Sometimes a product line unwinds because it was associated with a celebrity whose star faded or imploded (see Nike Livestrong accessories). Or, a product line might get pulled in the face of stiff competition, in which case you may want to promote that you are clearing inventory. Even stating the sales will continue “while supplies last” could hasten the dwindling of the inventory. Granted, you want to say that in a tasteful manner and not evince any sense of desperation.
Perhaps you believe you built a better mousetrap, and perhaps you really did, but too many competitors also had great mousetraps and maybe better marketing, distribution, pricing, cost basis, etc. Tell the customers how much you still back the product, but feel the time has come to let it go. Communicate the positive.
Put it out there
Gone are the days of a static memo. You need to put a face on your words. Here is where video can really help by serving multiple purposes in your crisis communications. The people who made the difficult decision should be on camera explaining how they arrived at this decision. Contrast that with just plain, cold words on paper or on a screen. The speakers’ faces and verbal tone will show empathy and regrets.
A second reason video helps is it is easily sharable on social media and your message will be quickly and readily disseminated to audiences you may not otherwise reach. Thirdly, this medium for storytelling really allows you to define yourself rather than allow other parties to describe you. It shows you have accountability. Fourthly, videos are memorable and will replay in people’s minds, further reinforcing your message.
Move fast on messaging
The news is going to come as a shock to some and bad news travels fast. You want customers to hear it from you first. Give the news to employees and then immediately roll the outside communications. Separate human resources discussions from external communications, but do give employees links to the press release and FAQ so if anyone asks them for information about the closing, then they can forward the proper information. Make it easier for the employees this way.
Disclose as much as possible. Vagueness and glaring omissions tend to invite speculation and rumors. Spare yourself as much aggravation as possible by disclosing the real reasons yourself.
Open a dialogue
Make it immediately clear that you are not pulling up stakes and leaving any customers in the lurch. Be sure to communicate contact information for questions and provide a frequently asked questions (FAQ) sheet with information on returns, redemptions, replacement parts, etc. Stand by the product and stand by its customers. Let them know the schedule for the product’s end or business closing.
Thank your customers for their business and support. If possible, recommend a competitor. After all, if you are exiting the market, suggesting an alternative is good customer service. Plus, if you are selling other products or expect to be in any other business, you want consumers to remember you in a positive light.
Delivering bad news is no fun, but if properly handled, you can hold your head up high.
For more information about business communications, contact consultant Katharine Fraser.