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Levick Daily. Thoughts. Perspectives. Insights.


Taking a Bite off the Apple

Gene Grabowski

Early on the morning of June 24, thousands of people across the country lined up to be among the first to purchase Apple’s iPhone 4. Having generated a level of mania usually associated with top rock concerts, the power of the brand built on iMacs, iPods, and iPads was on full display.

But when those eager consumers took to their computers that same day to voice rampant displeasure with the iPhone 4’s now well-documented antenna reception problems, Apple responded with an attitude that has toppled many brands – complacency.

In the Digital Age, three weeks is a lifetime for companies in crisis – but, amazingly, that’s how long it took Apple to hold a news conference and announce that consumers would be eligible to receive a free case that will presumably restore standard reception.

To many media pundits, Apple’s sluggish response to “antennagate” wasn’t a big deal. After all, the company’s fanatic consumer loyalty and Steve Jobs’ unquestioned genius have helped it successfully survive crises in the past. Jobs’ strong performance at the afore-mentioned news conference further cemented that perception. The problem, however, is that by waiting so long to take action, Apple merely restored the consumer trust that was lost in the interim, rather than build upon the enviable brand strength the company has earned over the last three decades.

The ultimate goal for companies in crisis is never to just merely survive; it’s to emerge stronger than before by demonstrating a keen and timely respect for consumer concerns. When companies choose to simply fall back on a formidable brand in the early moments of a crisis – as Apple did – they articulate a level of arrogance (however unintended) that, if left unchecked, could lead to bigger problems down the road.

Look at how vulnerable great brands like McDonald’s, Starbucks, Nike, Johnson & Johnson, and even the Vatican, have proven to be when they’ve initially responded to crisis with a lack of sensitivity to the needs of those who have trusted them. The results are measured in millions of dollars of lost sales, waning consumer loyalty, and massive long-term litigation that often take considerable deposits in the “Trust Bank” to recover from.

By finally responding when it did, Apple demonstrated an understanding that you only get so many bites from a strong brand before consumer trust and corporate credibility inch dangerously close to the red. But one has to wonder just what Apple could have gained had it acted more promptly.

Gene Grabowski is the Senior Vice President of Crisis and Litigation at Levick Strategic Communications, the nation’s top crisis communications firm. He is also a contributing author to Bulletproof Blog. Connect with him @crisisguru.

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