We naturally spend a lot of time thinking about what a successful communications strategy looks like. This a good thing. Communicating your company’s message and values is crucial for standing out amongst your closest competitors. But have you also thought about a failure communications strategy?
<INSERT> Awkward silence.
Right. Let’s get uncomfortable today. Let’s talk failure. If you’re rolling your eyes now because you think you know what’s coming, keep reading. This isn’t going to be the “Failure is an amazing teacher!” pablum that we’ve all grown so tired of hearing. No. This is real talk about what to do when the sh*t hits the fan, when we disappoint ourselves and others, or when we just fall flat on our faces.
Rothy’s and How to Do Failure Communications Right
I recently received an email from shoe startup, Rothy’s, that stopped me in my tracks (Yes, Rothy’s is a favorite brand of mine. But don’t worry, this is not an endorsement or a sales pitch. It’s just an example of an excellent communications strategy).
For months, Rothy’s had been teasing its latest shoe, a summertime slide with a vegan leather sole. The day before the shoe was supposed to launch, Rothy’s told its customers that the shoe’s launch was off. Apparently, scaling from prototype to production resulted in quality issues that couldn’t be fixed in time for the summer season.
The email they sent wasn’t a sale announcement or a giveaway begging customers not to leave. The subject line was: “Ouch.” The first line included the words “truthful and transparent.” It was an apology. But not the kind of lackluster corporate apology you might expect from a CEO who is clearly following instructions provided by legal. It was the kind of apology that left me feeling a greater respect for Rothy’s and its leadership.
What Rothy’s apology got right:
- They took responsibility both for the mistake and for the decision to cancel the launch of a new product
- They explained why they made the decision to cancel the launch
- The reason they gave was all about looking out for the customer
- They referred to their company values (i.e., “we pride ourselves on making the right decision—even when it’s really hard”) and their quality standards (i.e., “we will only launch product when every piece is perfect”)
- They acknowledged how disappointing this decision is, but reiterated their confidence in making this difficult decision
They sent this email the day before the launch.
Think about that—consider the time and money invested in design, marketing, production. Consider the sales expectations already baked into the firm’s annual plans. Think about the discussions that were likely happening behind the scenes to make the decision to pull the launch just hours before it was scheduled. Yet, they went through with the apology because leadership believed it was right.
3 Lessons Learned From Rothy’s Apology
If you stay in business long enough, failure is inevitable. Every seasoned business leader has “war stories.” Failure hurts. It hurts to consider the financial impact. It hurts to consider the customer impact and the blow to your brand (or personal) credibility. And, let’s be honest. It’s an ego blow.
What sets apart those who master the art of turning lemons into lemonade from those who just leave customers with a sour taste? Let’s look at 3 lessons we can learn from Rothy’s literal failure to launch.
1. Failure can humanize your brand.
Failure sucks—there’s no getting around that—and doing the right thing can be incredibly painful. But as you work through the failure, acknowledging the pain humanizes your brand and aligns your goals with your customers’ expectations.
When you fail, make it right if you can. But when you can’t, acknowledge the human aspects of disappointment and talk openly about how you will do better going forward. Trust your customers enough to put it all out there.
2. Transparency works.
Whether you’re communicating with customers, investors, or media, prioritize simple honesty. We don’t have to martyr ourselves or get too far into the weeds of how and why we failed. But we should be honest about the situation and what we’re doing about it. At the end of the day, this is all anyone can expect after a crisis. You can’t turn back time as much as you might wish you could.
3. Live your values.
Failure is the greatest test of your values as a company. This really is where the “rubber meets the road.” After Facebook admitted to selling our data, one of the biggest criticisms was really a question about the company’s values. The “apology” ad reminding us of how much we all love Facebook felt like a sham after everything that came out.
Communicating about failure, when done right, gives us a chance to remind others about our values, why they are important, and how they provide a better experience. That’s what I liked the most about Rothy’s communication. They acknowledged the failure right up front and they explained their highly personal calculus behind pulling the launch: that the poor quality shoe would be a bigger hit to their brand credibility than not launching the shoe at all.
It was a fantastic example of transparency, honesty about business decisions, and a real example of living your corporate values. I’m sure that behind the scenes at Rothy’s HQ there are some heavy discussions taking place to understand why they failed on this product launch. But, they lived to fight another day and made their customers feel prioritized.
Rothy’s launch fail is an excellent example of making lemonade out of lemons. You can perfect your brand’s lemonade recipe with these other blog articles:
- Practice failure communications with a Murder Board
And you can always work with a pro like Audacia Strategies to establish your failure communications or crisis communications strategy. We can also help create a strategy for successful communications, of course! Contact us today to talk about your unique needs.