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Combating Brand Disaster

You may have read the news this week that Chipotle, the embattled fast-food chain specializing in burritos and tacos, will be shutting down all of its over 1,900 restaurants in February. The detail isn’t quite as dramatic as some headlines suggest: the closure will just be for a few hours on one day (February 8) while they hold a national staff meeting about food safety. If 2015 was an annus horribilis for the food chain, with six separate outbreaks of E.coli, salmonella and norovirus – and a corresponding drop in sales – it’s clear they are doing everything they can to make sure 2016 is not a repeat performance.

Of course it’s too soon to say how things will work out for Chipotle, but from a marketing point of view, it looks like they are starting off very strongly. For one, the “shutdown” – albeit temporary – allows them to take better control of the narrative by sending the message that they are taking the issue seriously enough to close all stores and involve all employees on the call. No stone is being left unturned.

Social media provides a great way of making this announcement, and then keeping consumers informed of progress. Indeed, comments in response to the announcement posted on Facebook are largely very supportive of the chain and their decision to close.

It also allows Chipotle to discuss, admittedly in a different light, their Food with Integrity promise. This slogan was first introduced in a mission statement released in 2001, and speaks to their commitment to using responsibly raised animals and non-GMO ingredients (making them the first national food restaurant chain to do so). This strategy was not only a positive market-differentiator, but also helped forge an emotional bond with consumers – something which, I would suggest, is paying dividends now by stopping a grave situation from becoming an all-out brand disaster.

The take away here is to be transparent, take positive action, stay true to your brand values, and ensure there is a two-way dialog with consumers.

Another fast food chain that took unusual steps to win back customer loyalty is Domino’s. Back in 2010, awash with poor customer feedback (and coinciding with the explosion in social media) Domino’s launched their now infamous ad campaign in which they bravely admitted “yes, we suck!

Domino’s were able to recognize the new paradigm: in this hyper-connected world, there is no hiding place for inauthentic brands and a truly customer-centric approach is vital for survival. Once again, transparency, honesty and positive action win the day – along with some clever and compelling brand messaging. Ultimately, all brands need to realize that brand credibility begins at home.

If you’d like to discuss your brand strategy for 2016, as ever, please get in touch.





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