Brands particularly at this time, need a resolute and clear purpose to succeed, and potentially to exist at all.
Edelman produce a Trust Barometer each year that asks the public what they trust most (and least) in society. Annual results paint a stark picture of decline in trust in many of the pillars that create a progressive and stable society: government, NGOs along with media (news media in this instance) and business. Sure, fake news is at the heart of this, but so too are the myopic ambitions of business due to capitalism and the ineffective partisanship of modern politics. We probed deeper to understand how brands, particularly at this time, need a resolute and clear purpose to succeed, and potentially to exist at all.
During the 2009 recession, the Economist bucked the trend by telling people they had a choice, they could use conjecture and hearsay to make decisions on their financial future, or they could turn to an objective, rigorous and reliable publication to make informed choices. Their sales rose by 2.4%. The Economist demonstrated their purpose was to inform, fully and frankly. They chose to reinforce this in their communications, showing that honesty and openness pay.
Brands today need to be energetically focused on what makes them great and honestly reveal where they are changing to account for the times we live in. It is time to forget ROI and profit, and realign the focus. When Dove focused on confidence in women, did confidence equate with profit? Not right away, but it gave the brand a strong voice and moved people to believe.
This is a time for investment. Investment in the community you serve, the customers you wish to keep, and the principles you hold dear (or say you do in your marketing). Focus on restructuring for the new business world post lockdown. Give employees the ability to leverage your wealth of assets and tools to get your community back on its feet, to help them when they struggle for food, to support their mental wellbeing, and to aid their recovery through work and reconnection.
“…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou.
It’s that sense of feeling that creates a central role for purpose. We must use this time to engage all stakeholders, creating value by what we can offer because we have the means, the peoplepower, and the ambition. This purposeful focus is at the heart of creating meaningful experiences. To people who are struggling today, brands can offer space, solidarity and often just a voice.
For West Bromwich Albion, a football club in the second tier of English football, the challenge is very much about survival for the club, but they are a club at the heart of their community. Even though they cannot host football matches, they can offer facilities, space and safety for local people. The club has taken what assets they have and turned them over to the community, transforming their hospitality suites into medical bays so the local maternity ward can safely operate from the ground without having to send expectant mothers to the nearby hospital. The story has seen their social media followers – and the positive messages – jump by more than 80%. For a brand whose existence relies entirely on willing fans to pay to attend games, building a following is essential.
We hear from brands now more than ever and they join us through every device. We have more contact with brands through our social feeds and the news. Their behaviour is now evident and so their purpose and actions are scrutinised even more. Brand personalities are front and centre, so much so that they anthropomorphise, becoming virtual friends who make us laugh or smile.
No longer is purpose a nice-to-have, it’s a responsibility. Purpose taken too lightly may well spell the end of the company. Abercrombie and Fitch is an example of a brand ignoring public sentiment and fixating on the perceptions of their archaic, older male-heavy board instead of appreciating the intelligence and nuances of their target audience. Their share price now trades at about 10% of what it was just nine years ago.
Five things brands should consider during COVID-19
- Improve your online presence to support customers
This might be more chat operatives, better D2C sales facilities or simply telling customers what this means for their products/services.
- Show what you are doing to help
Have you sheltered health workers? Are you offering free food for key workers? Are your products being used to put a smile on people’s faces?
- Be clear what you are and aren’t offering during the crisis
Morrisons supermarket in the UK announced it was offering simple-to-order food parcels to alleviate panic buying and created 3,500 new home delivery roles to account for the surge in demand.
- Audit all content across all channels
You don’t want to praise the tenacious and committed staff who are working tirelessly to feed a community during the crisis when you’ve just announced sweeping job cuts.
- Keep calm and don’t panic – this too shall pass
There will be a new normal. Begin organising how your business can fulfil its ambition and purpose and still be profitable and successful as lockdowns are lifted.