How to Help Your Brand Respond vs. React (4 Smart Tips)

Every brand faces challenging moments, whether it’s a problem with a product, a major miscommunication, or a very public misstep. But when things get tough, many brands make it worse. Instead of a thoughtful response, they have an immediate reaction, often triggered by fear, defensiveness, or panic. Unsurprisingly, when they act from that place, the decisions they make to address the problem at hand are shortsighted at best or truly damaging at worst. 

“Calm breeds calm. Panic breeds panic.”
—Congressman and former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw

How do you make sure you’re not one of those brands? When you’re up against the ropes, how do you make the right move, and make it one you feel good about? By learning to respond instead of react. 

How to Respond vs. React as a Brand

A strong brand leads with clarity, conviction, and steadiness, but that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience and practice to learn how to respond appropriately, especially if you’re in a confusing or overwhelming situation (e.g., a global pandemic).  

We know how challenging this can be, but we’ve also found some specific tactics that can make it a whole lot easier to navigate any situation in your organization. 

So, the next time you’re not sure what to do, we’d recommend following these steps to help you decide what the right response should be. We hope they help. 

1) Listen

It’s always smart to listen more than you speak. When you’re in a challenging situation, or things are changing quickly, this is especially true. You never want to react based on faulty info, or alarm people without cause, so it’s always smarter to:

  1. Get all the facts about the situation at hand.
  2. Understand how it is affecting people and what they’re feeling. 

The more empathetic you can be, the more you can figure out ways to remedy the situation or contribute a positive response. This is especially true in situations where tensions are running high.

2) Reflect

Not every situation requires a response. If you feel pressured to respond to something because there’s a public outcry or a trending news story, consider whether or not your brand really does need to chime in. (Here are 5 questions to ask before your brand joins a conversation.) 

If, after listening, you do think there’s a need to respond, make sure you understand the bigger picture. How did this issue arise? Is it due to a miscommunication? Poor planning? Lax oversight? These can be hard, painful, or uncomfortable things to think about, but they are also the key to doing better in the future. 

Also, think about your short-term vs. long-term goals, and how your response may affect all aspects of your business, both internally and externally. People are often focused on satisfying their customers, but your employees are just as vital to your brand. People like vendors, partners, and industry peers may also be affected. 

You may not be able to predict the future, but the more thoughtfully you respond, the better your chance of navigating a situation successfully.    

3) Reframe 

We often have a knee-jerk reaction when we feel cornered or called out. But responding thoughtfully is about acting constructively. When things go wrong or take an unexpected turn, there is often a way to extract a valuable lesson. 

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
—Winston Churchill

Depending on the situation, what seems like bad news could be turned into a unique opportunity. For example, when the pandemic hit, many major events like SXSW decided to cancel. This wasn’t necessarily the wrong call, but other brands used the quarantine as an opportunity to explore the power of virtual events. 

In a matter of weeks, Adobe turned its annual Summit into a virtual conference and made its content free to access, expanding its audience and creating a larger community.

Simon Sinek recently gave a great talk to his team on this subject, noting that we shouldn’t ask “‘How will we do what we’re doing?’ but rather, ‘How will we do what we’re doing in a different world?’” This is reframing at its best.

4) Respond

Now comes the question of how to respond. This answer is a lot easier to identify if you have a strong brand strategy in place. A brand strategy is a blueprint to guide your decision-making in good times and bad. If you’ve completed your brand strategy and have a fully articulated Brand Heart (purpose, vision, mission, values), then you have a compass to guide you toward the right decision for your brand.


Ultimately, when it comes time to take action, think about how you can respond now (e.g., resolve the problem, make amends, or shift your approach) and how you can use this experience to be more proactive in the future (e.g., revise your processes, start new initiatives, open up more conversations). 

Even if you’re not dealing with a situation that is your “problem,” you can use your knowledge, skills, infrastructure, or connections to support your community in ways that align with your brand’s values. 

In the last few months, we’ve seen fashion brands switch their production to making masks, and we’ve seen local restaurants offer free food to families in need. This may be an opportunity to use your creativity. (If you’re looking for some inspiration, here are 10 smart ways brands can help when things are challenging.) 

Most Importantly, Be Honest

The way you act when someone is looking shouldn’t be different from the way you act when they’re not. Remember that the way you respond in times of trouble will speak volumes about your brand’s priorities, values, and beliefs.

You may not have every answer immediately (and you may not be expected to), but if you respond with integrity and positivity, people will remember it. Luckily, you don’t have to wait til things get rocky to do this. With strong content marketing, you can show up for people, tell your brand story, and provide value any time.

If you’re looking for more ways to do that…

And if you need any extra help telling your brand story, use these tips to find and vet a content agency. We’re also happy to help you create an action plan, revise your content strategy, or try some one-on-one coaching. Just holler at us.