One of the most lovable brands found itself in a sticky situation this past holiday season. About a week before Christmas, Target suffered a massive security breach that affected over 100 million of its customers. As a result, the retail giant has been working non-stop to repair its now tarnished reputation, even finding itself in the midst of a couple of lawsuits.

According to the Huffington Post, public perception of the brand has plummeted since the breach and has stayed at an all-time low ever since. Although Target is trying its best to remedy the situation, it only seems to be making things worse for itself; so what’s the problem?

What Went Wrong

As with any massive security breach, Number 1. it could’ve happened to any other retail business and 2. Incidents are always expected to come with some turbulence and disgruntled customers. The biggest lesson to be learned from Target’s case is how poorly the brand reacted to a bad, unfortunate situation.

Bad Timing

What went wrong for Target is that it happened in the middle of one of the biggest shopping seasons of the year, magnifying the incident in the public spotlight. Shoppers, itching to finish checking off their holiday wish lists were on edge, watching the brand’s every move. Target waited a full four days before making a public announcement about the security breach. CEO Gregg Steinhafel defended the delayed time, claiming that it was lightning speed from the retailer’s perspective. In this time, Target was able to remove the malware, reinstate security, prepare their call centers.

Lesson #1: Have a Crisis Plan

No one can predict or control the timing of bad incidents. They just happen. That said, every brand should have a crisis plan of action set in place to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. This includes making sure every last bit of detail is considered and planned.

No Transparency

For Target, it was their lack of confidence and ownership of the situation in the weeks following the incident ended up “shooting them in the foot.” Target posted legalistic responses to customer posts that were not so transparent. Additionally, a new bit of information seemed to reveal itself every few days after the incident. Originally thought to have only affected 70 million customers, new numbers surfaced that the breach had actually affected over 100 million. Then, it was revealed that PIN numbers were stolen as well. The size and scope of the breach, because it’s  been leaked in bits and pieces in the media in the last six weeks, is reminding customers of the company’s failings and making it difficult for the brand to redeem its trust and credibility with its customers.

Lesson #2: Own Up to Failures

Little cracks in brand reputation will happen and are almost unavoidable, but it’s through transparency and honesty, especially now in this modern age, that allows a brand to recover much quicker. It’s important for a brand to disclose important information as soon as possible, and to listen closely and talk openly to customers. Ripping (and not peeling) the bandaid will begin the recovery process much faster.


Failed Redemption

In January, Target sent out an eblast that had a formal apology, was signed by the CEO Gregg Steinhafel, and offered a free year of credit monitoring services. Sounds great, especially because companies aren’t obligated at all to offer free credit monitoring services for these types of instances, right? Well, some customers thought it was nothing more than a phishing scam and opted to not trust that the email was actually from Target, hindering the brand from building any reputable applause or praise.

Reputation Management Lessons From Target's Data Breach Disaster | Small Screen Producer Digital and Inbound Marketing Agency Houston

Reputation Management Lessons From Target's Data Breach Disaster | Small Screen Producer Digital and Inbound Marketing Agency Houston

The particular email was legitimate, but the approach was all wrong, furthering the confusion among customers and customers who haven’t shopped with the store in years. The reason why former customers were receiving the email was to inform them that the hackers might have stolen information that the retailer had on file, but that wasn’t communicated in the email.

Reputation Management Lessons From Target's Data Breach Disaster | Small Screen Producer Digital and Inbound Marketing Agency Houston

Lesson #3 Reward Customers Right

To start mending relationships with its customers, Target should listen to their customers and offer rewards that help reinstate trust and likeability into their brand again. And what better way to say that, “hey, we messed up and we know we put you through a lot of trouble now and in the near future” than what customers want most: discounts, rewards, and free merchandise! Credit monitoring services are great, but not helpful for customers who already closely monitor their credit information.

Bonus Lesson #4: Listen and Contribute to the Social Conversation

One thing that Target looks like it’s doing right is listening and talking to their customers through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, which are powerful tools for the brand to begin recultivating customer relationships and redeeming their once golden poster child reputation. It may take some time, but reputations do repair and they do recover. Target’s active presence has always been there (even before any leak of a security breach) to let customers know that the brand is present, listening, and willing to address questions and offer support. And we believe this is what will help bring the retailer out of the dark.

Reputation Management Lessons From Target's Data Breach Disaster | Small Screen Producer Digital and Inbound Marketing Agency Houston

Reputation Management Lessons From Target's Data Breach Disaster | Small Screen Producer Digital and Inbound Marketing Agency Houston

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About Small Screen Producer

Small Screen Producer is a full service, marketing firm located in Houston, Texas that specializes in online digital media marketing through a 4-step process. Step 1: WE PLAN a custom web presence strategy for your business through website design and development, mobile development, social media account creation and branding. STEP 2: We then POSITION your brand through Pay-Per-Click advertising and search engine optimize tactics that include on-page and off-page SEO that are Google and Bing approved. STEP 3: We then PROMOTE your brand using an Inbound marketing strategy or a content marketing strategy to help you accomplish your marketing goals. We do this through blogging, video production, infographics, call-to-actions, landing pages, and free educational offers. We help you build trust and rapport with your customer base. STEP 4: We then PROTECT your brand’s web presence with a reputation management program that monitors social media and on line reviews. Get started today with a free online marketing assessment of your company’s web presence. Your company deserves it.