To review: Sigg announced that prior to August 2008, liners used in their pricey water bottles contained the controversial chemical BPA (Bisphenol A), which some people believe is harmful to human health.
Sigg made its liner announcement in late August 2009, three years after it knew the old liners contained the chemical. Sigg marketed heavily to the eco-friendly crowd, including moms who didn't want their children exposed to BPA.
Sigg has mostly gone quiet since the Acute Phase of the crisis ended. Their marketing tactics are now the subject of a class-action lawsuit and one of the major retailers of Sigg Water bottles has cut its ties to the company. Patagonia feels strongly that Sigg lied about BPA in its water bottles.
"We very clearly asked SIGG if there was BPA in their bottles and their liners, and they clearly said there was not." Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s VP of environmental initiativesElaine Shannon, Editor-in-Chief of the Enviornmental Working Group asked the essential question from a crisis communications point of view in her column on Huffington Post:
For many consumers, the question has transcended the issue of BPA. It's, can you trust this company?You know a crisis has gone chronic when the debate shifts from the specific event to questions that go to the core of a company's soul. It's important to point out that the science regarding BPA is not settled. Some people think BPA is dangerous to humans, some don't. But the issue with Sigg has nothing to do with science, it has to do with emotion. People feel duped.
Sigg initially posted the ingredients of its new liner on its Website, it has since taken the page down. Below is a screen shot of what they have now.
I don't have a screen capture of the the liner ingredients page (lesson learned), but the description was vague. I doubt environmentalists or moms will take Sigg's word for it when it comes to the mineral fillers, flow additives and pigments added to the Griltex high performance polyester that make up the new liner.
What is Griltex, anyway? There are 47 different versions of Griltex listed in the material property data base MatWeb. How does a mom know if all Griltex high tech polyesters are BPA-free? Who makes the Griltex that Sigg uses, which version do they use and who certified it BPA-free?
People want to know because they no longer believe what Sigg says.
Sigg's competitors have seized on the crisis (as competitors always do). The owners of Klean Kanteen have posted a letter on their Website that takes direct aim at Sigg, even though they don't name the company.
If someone isn't familiar with the crisis, Klean Kanteen is happy to help. It dedicates a page to the anatomy of its bottles and helpful links to blog posts harmful to Sigg.
Sigg ceded the high ground. Now, competitors are seizing market share from a position of strength.
I think there are three key things that Sigg can do now to get through the Chronic Phase of this crisis:
1) Keep communicating
Now is not the time to pull back, even though it probably feels like it. Continuing to communicate will be the only way Sigg can talk about its new BPA-free liner and demonstrate that it has learned from its mistake. If Sigg stays silent customers may never realize that the new liner makes Sigg bottles a choice for them.
2) Pay for shipping for people to exchange their old bottle
Sigg's president said he didn't want to do that because he was afraid people who didn't care about BPA would send in their "three-year-old bottles just because they were dented." What does he care? The three-year-old bottles have BPA in the liner, regardless of the customer's motive. Paying for shipping would help re-establish trust between Sigg and its customers.
3) Get the ingredient list for the new liner up ASAP
People are going to know that the ingredients were posted; I'm not the first blogger to write about it. With the "coming soon" page Sigg is reinforcing people's perception that it has something to hide. Note to Steve Wasik on transparency: You are doing it wrong.
The Chronic Phase of a crisis is where companies often learn the most painful lessons. In this case, Sigg is finding out that it was faster and cheaper to take BPA out of its bottles than it will be to restore trust to its brand.