Exploding mobiles, fading memories and managing the message

[Image courtesy of iphonedigital at Flickr Creative Commons]

Oh to be a fly on the wall at Samsung HQ at the moment.

After one of the biggest mobile phone PR disasters in living memory, it would certainly be interesting to know how they’re bearing up in Seoul.

At one point it looked like they were getting on top of things with their recall programme – but then the replacement handsets also went up in smoke, adding insult to injury. At times it felt like watching a mobile phone version of Source Code

In the end, they took the only decision they could, announcing the immediate suspension of production and definitive recall of all units in the market. It’s been a monumentally expensive episode, with the Korean giant steeling itself for a $3 billion hit in Q1 2014.

But here’s an interesting thing: according to some industry experts,  it could all be forgotten in as little as six months.

Why is that?

Because this is a fast-moving environment, where product launches are frequent. Samsung has at least two major events a year, and other manufacturers are clamouring for a share of a saturated market by constantly upping the ante. 

Already people are in post-Note 7 mode, looking forward to the much-anticipated Galaxy 8, which is expected to be unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of February.

So what lessons can we learn from the exploding mobiles? 

Memories are short

This is good news, because it means that bad news is soon forgotten.

Back in 2014, commentators were asking whether Malaysia Airlines had a future, after the disappearance of flight MH370 and the shooting down of of MH17 just four months later.

Two years on, people are still flying with the airline, and it’s even posted a profit.

So bad news doesn’t last, however bad it is. In our always-connected world, there’s always something worse to replace it.

The downside is that good news doesn’t last either. It doesn’t matter how slick your product launch is, how revolutionary your service is or how positive the survey results are. Nothing lasts forever, so you’d better have some more good news down the line.

Which is yet another good reason to have a marketing calendar that maps out the next 12 months and has constantly rolling activity.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

OK, so self-destructing phones are pretty dangerous and need to be taken off the market. But that marketing campaign that you’re agonising over, the website design you can’t quite make up your mind on, the copy you’ve been trying to hammer into shape for the last week isn’t.

I remember a few years back spending two whole days trying to decide on the size and colour of the dots for my website logo. I went through every conceivable hue and saturation, brightness and tint. They got bigger and smaller, and moved from left to right, from top to bottom.

It was a small but telling example of the famous analysis paralysis (probably an INTJ thing, but let’s not go there). And in the end, I simply made a snap decision and moved on.

So if the big decisions barely matter, why sweat the small stuff?

Most decisions are not show-stoppers, so imagine how much time you could save by just deciding and moving on. How much more work you could get done. How much earlier you could call it a day. 

Get in front of the story

You miss a deadline, or your service falls short. The delivery doesn’t make it to your customer, or you say something you shouldn’t have in a meeting.

In business as in life, stuff happens – some of which you can control, and some of which you can’t. What really matters is how you react when things go wrong.

So if something goes wrong, whether it’s your fault or somebody else’s, it’s alway best to take control and manage the message – before somebody else does. If you act quickly and decisively, frame the message and propose a plan to minimise the damage, you’re well on the way to a solution.

Samsung realised this and took positive action to own the problem and control the direction of travel of the story. Of course part of that is cultural, and getting it right was a question of national pride (in a country where you can be born in a Samsung hospital and make your last journey thanks to a Samsung funeral centre). Perhaps we should all be a bit more Korean. 

Getting in front of the story works for problems big and small. From minor service glitches to an army of incendiary handsets and everything in between.

And however bad it gets, remember you can always take comfort in the thought that memories really are short. Mine certainly is: I’m already toying with the idea of a Galaxy 8.

Because it can’t happen again. Can it?