You’ve Been Hacked. Now What?

You know cybersecurity has reached a tipping point when even the federal government, which places a big value on security, can’t keep foreign hackers at bay. News that Juniper devices were susceptible to attack, and revelation that many government agencies relied on this equipment to keep them safe, caused a lot of handwringing in public policy circles. And with good reason.

Data breaches are on the rise and CMOs increasingly find themselves on the front lines of cybersecurity. When something bad happens, they’re called to manage fallout, recover consumer trust, and keep people buying the company’s products and services. Everyone goes into action when a company comes under attack, even marketing.

Such a critical role demands a playbook. In that spirit, we’ve assembled a short primer for CMOs to manage such circumstances. Take a look, because it may only be a matter of time before you’ll need to jump into action.

Get the facts

Immediately following the incident, convene with IT, legal and other executives to establish what is known about the breach. Knowledge predicates action, and you will want to know more about the incident. Listen to the experts.

Get clarity on what data was hacked, how many customers were affected, and how the breach is being managed. The details will be essential for crafting your response communications. Disclosing the breach without such details can be costly to both your brand’s reputation and its bottom line.

Disclose the breach

It can be tempting to postpone disclosing a data breach amid the chaos of assessing and controlling the damage. But a slow or poor response will wreck customer trust as surely as the attack that breached their data. How you talk about what happened matters. If you haven’t already appointed a communications team and spokesperson as part of a comprehensive crisis response plan, now is the time to do it.

Communicate what you know about the breach. Consumers want the facts and an explanation of any possible harm they might experience as a result. If you still don’t have all the facts, commit to providing updates as the investigation evolves. At this stage, people will be looking more to see you’re communicating and transparent about what it means than that you have all the answers.

Review planned publicity

In the aftermath of the breach, IT will work to contain the attack and prevent further damage. You must do the same with regard to your company’s reputation. Review all your planned promotions and external communications. Be prepared to pull messaging that seems insensitive to those affected by the breach or otherwise in conflict with the incident.

Following Target’s 2013 data breach, for example, CMO Jeff Jones followed through with advertising designed to drive traffic to stores. But he dropped a campaign called “Around for Good” that showcased Target’s community service efforts. Jones thought it felt “tone deaf” in the wake of the breach. The company also had its cashiers temporarily stop asking shoppers to apply for store credit cards.

You’ll face plenty of challenges rebuilding customer trust in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, make sure your other marketing campaigns aren’t pouring salt on the wound.

Repair relationships

Data breaches are devastating to a brand’s reputation. But don’t wait until the situation is resolved to start rebuilding customer trust.

A simple apology will go a long way toward mending fences. Regardless of the cause of the breach, make sure company messaging clearly accepts responsibility for the incident and expresses regret. Outline measures being taken to mitigate customer risk, such as free credit monitoring and identity theft protection Surveys show consumers now expect this to be provided following a breach.

And as long at the breach remains in the headlines, maintain communications across traditional and digital channels. Social media, in particular, offers an easy and effective way to share situation updates and monitor customer sentiment.

The risk of breach is a reality for any organization that collects customer data. But if you respond clearly and confidently with the steps outlined here, you can not only repair, but strengthen, customers’ bond with your brand.

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