It seems every few weeks another company suffers a data breach, losing customer data to criminals who find and exploit weaknesses in their security systems. Make no mistake: companies that suffer breaches are victims of crimes, just like customers whose data is stolen.

Unlike consumers, however, companies face unique communications challenges in responding to data breaches. Recent, high profile breaches at companies like Target and Home Depot illustrate the importance of communicating directly with consumers as quickly as possible after suffering a breach.

The December 2013 data breach at Target stores perfectly illustrates the consequences of failing to communicate effectively. The data breach was first reported publicly by the media – not by Target itself – and consumer confidence in the once sparkling brand plummeted.

Target offered consumers credit monitoring services and large discounts on future purchases, but the damage was largely done. They had lost control of the messaging, and consumers saw them as part of the problem, not another victim of the crime.

One of the keys to responding effectively to crises is ensuring control over messaging. By failing to act swiftly and decisively to communicate directly with consumers about this breach, Target lost that control. Ultimately, the company’s CEO was forced to step down.

Home Depot announced this week that it had suffered a data breach dating back to April 2014. Like Target, the Home Depot breach was reported online before the company announced it. Only time will tell if Home Depot is able to maintain consumer confidence in the wake of the breach, but like Target, the company begins at a disadvantage because it missed the opportunity to define the message.

When they suffer a data breach, companies have an opportunity. They can release information themselves, communicating what happened in a controlled and strategic manner. If done correctly, this can significantly reduce the reputational harm that these crimes can bring with them. Companies that fail to get out ahead of the messaging always come out behind.

Red Banyan Group has the skills and the experience to ensure that companies who are victimized by hackers respond quickly and effectively. We can define and control your messaging and position your company and your brand as a resource for your customers, helping to rebuild the trust and loyalty that are the lifeblood of any consumer-facing business.