RMS Titanic represented state-of-the-art technology in 1912. It was the pinnacle of Edwardian achievement and the height of accomplishment in the industrial revolution up to that time. And, it was in service for only 4 days.
The lessons learned from Titanic are profound and many. The sinking changed an antiquated system, and those changes continue to save lives to this day. So perhaps we can also glean lessons that apply to our job as communicators and brand stewards.
1. If you’re coming head on into disaster, don’t avoid it; aim directly for it.
When Titanic sailed, it was the brand new flagship of the White Star Line. So the line decided they should have their highest-ranking people in command. The problem was, most of those officers didn’t have a great understanding of the brand new ship. And that is ultimately what led to the disaster.
This is also true of brands. If the people in charge of a brand don’t understand that the brand really isn’t theirs, but instead is their customer’s property, that brand is doomed to fail in this new era of communication.
His intention was to swing the ship around the berg to miss it altogether. The problem was, he didn’t understand how Titanic was engineered. His command actually eliminated the ship’s ability to turn quickly. Because the ship “glanced” off the side of the berg, it damaged five watertight compartments. Titanic was designed to be able to stay afloat with four compartments damaged.
The best order at the helm of Titanic that night would have been “full speed astern,” an order to steer directly into the berg. This would have damaged at most two compartments and would have saved 1500 lives.
In a time when a brand can no longer control a one-way conversation, it is more important than ever to do what Officer Murdoch should have done: take on whatever is coming your way directly. Don’t try to avoid it. Don’t try to sugar coat it. Take it head on. The new consumer wants a “relationship.” They want to be able to trust a brand. So they want to feel like that brand is listening to what they have to say.
And just like in any friendship, not all conversations are going to be nice ones. But friendships survive because the two parties trust each other. They may not always agree, but they will always trust. Be authentic. Be real.
2. Be careful what you say. The message could turn on you.
“God himself could not sink this ship.”
After almost 100 years, this quote — which, legend has it, was made on the spur of the moment by a deckhand during Titanic’s sea trials a week before her maiden voyage — has become the defining characteristic of the disaster. Titanic: the unsinkable ship. Ironically, the brand — the White Star Line — never made this claim. Yet to this day it is synonymous with the greatest ocean liner disaster of all time. Why?
Because it was picked up and given life by the media, and by word of mouth, and made larger by each person who passed it along. The brand allowed this exaggeration to take hold and did nothing to influence or quell it.
Why not? The ship was practically unsinkable. It had a double bottom, 16 watertight compartments with three separate systems to activate the doors should the ship need them. What could possibly go wrong? Why not allow this misinformation to circulate? It could only help the brand, right?
Wrong. White Star never recovered after Titanic sank and was eventually absorbed by their primary competitor.
This exact situation lives on today, especially with the advent of social media. Any message, whether true or not, can now be picked up and circulated around the world instantly. The brands of tomorrow need to be cognizant today about a game plan for where the conversation goes and how to shape its life.
Those who have systems in place to guide the discussion won’t be blindsided. You will never be able to fully control the conversation, but you can get your side of the story to take hold if you are prepared. Because once the wrong story begins to spin, it is hard to slow down. Just ask Tiger Woods.
(to be continued)