October 21st, 2020
Why has it taken a pandemic for brands to stand?
2020 has been a year for change and a year for challenges. With nearly every country around the world having been through some sort of lockdown, and some regions heading back in, businesses have had to adapt and assess. It’s given those lucky enough to survive, or even thrive, the opportunity to re-evaluate their brand and its role for their customers and role in the wider world.
For each and every one of us, this time has made us realise how precious life truly is and has given us all time to reassess what really matters. Times have been tough, different and uncertain but within a world of such uncertainty, there are stories where adventure was found in the everyday, kindness shared in abundance and courage found in those often taken for granted.
In times of crisis communities have come together and, for most, our natural instinct is to help and celebrate those that put others before themselves, and brands recognise the value of behaving in the same manor. Living in a global pandemic, something businesses never experienced before on such a scale, has forced brands to act, some to be relevant in a bid to survive, maybe because sitting on their hands meant they’re not going anywhere, some have sat entirely still, perhaps in the reflection of what and how they do business in a global time of need and being perceived as insensitive or ignorant, but most because they wanted to do something to help and because it’s always been ingrained in the way they do things as a brand. Maybe a mix of all of the above.
There have been countless examples of businesses doing things for the good of communities and for those in need. We saw supermarkets dedicate allotted hours to the NHS, the elderly and vulnerable to give them a safe environment to do their food shopping. We saw EE offer unlimited data to all NHS workers as a way of saying thank you and giving back. Pret gave free hot drinks and 50% off food to NHS workers which perfectly goes hand-in-hand with their existing initiative of the Pret Foundation where they donate unsold food to hostels and charities supporting homeless people. Leon also followed suit giving 50% off and extending it to ambulance, police, fire and armed forces as well as supporting the ‘Feed NHS’ campaign. North London’s Camden Town Brewery rebranded its Camden Hells lager as ‘Camden Heroes’, giving away a six-pack of the beer to every NHS worker as a thank you. Loreal, Zara and Burberry, just to name a few, all transformed their factories to produce PPE and sanitiser. Heinz partnered up Magic Breakfast for their ‘breakfast isn’t going anywhere’ campaign to donate 12 million free breakfasts to school children in need and FMCG brands, such as No.1 Living and Cadbury’s, donate their products to both the NHS and food bank charities.
These are just a small minority of the incredible campaigns and donations that brands made during this unprecedented time and these campaigns have been vital in order to stay relevant and for their consumers to continue to support them, which is evidenced in the Edelman Trust Barometer report. Consumers have made it clear that they will judge brands on how appropriately they respond to the COVID-19 crisis. 65% stated that how brands behave during the crisis will have a “huge impact” on how likely they are to buy a brand’s products, and one in three consumers said they had already stopped buying a brand they believed had not done the right thing in the face of the crisis.
Outside of giving, we’ve seen brands create online stores so people can still buy the products they love, sometimes at heavily discounted prices, brands have purposely turned off sales channels to customers showing a side of empathy perhaps never seen before, or created content that adds value and gives advice to audiences during these times. The ways in which brands do their bit for their customers and the world goes on.
Regardless of the reason, whether to be remain relevant or because they wanted to take more responsibility, or both, it has been a time for reflection and transformation. A time to listen, learn, respond and adapt.
With the virus certainly not going anywhere any time soon, brands need to keep moving forward and adapt to this ‘new normal’ as best they can, looking to the future, moving away from survival mode and into recovery mode. The power of brand and how they can help their audience has never been vital. They know their customers want to be able to help within the crisis too. With little trust in politicians, consumers are increasingly looking to brands for guidance, inspiration and innovative approaches with societal issues, human ergonomics, and creating positive initiatives in our culture.
Stripped of all distractions, 2020 has given brands the opportunity to see with true clarity and they must use their experiences and learnings from lockdown to rethink their priorities, figure out what success is to them and put purpose and responsibility back at the heart of their brand for the long term.
In a survey carried out by Creativebrief, it seems that brands are doing just that. When 50 senior marketing leaders were asked if ‘this period is an opportunity for brands to step back, reflect and think more strategically about their future’, 76% of them agreed. Margaret Jobling, Group CMO from Centrica said, “given the current market context it is critical for brands to think about the role they play in customers’ lives and how they can be relevant both now and in the future.”
With this in mind, and with the future uncharted territory for everyone, in a battle to stand out, stepping back, finding, reengageing or ‘doubling down’ on your purpose and being a responsible brand could be the key ingredient to not only survival but success. Purpose-driven companies were shown to out perform financial markets by 42% in the 2018 Global Leadership Forecast, whilst companies without a sense of purpose or mission were found to underperform by 42%.
Although scepticism creeps in when thinking about how authentic some of the things were, only time will tell if brands have truly made a stand and adopted an approach that their audience relies on. That’s not saying every brand has to give to the NHS or constantly give to charity between now and eternity, but it’s understanding how they can play a role to improve their customers lives and how that affects the wider world. What can the brand be doing to better serve why it started in the first place, not at the expense or exploitation of the customers but at their advantage.
Brands will need to show authentic and long-term commitment to being brands that care and go above and beyond, and only by committing to this will they look to a future where they can truly thrive by pursuing their newfound responsibility.
Lenin once said: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”, and this has certainly shone true for 2020. Though it may have taken a pandemic for brands to stand, to start acting responsibly, it’s been the wake up call for all of us. We are all venturing into the unknown together and we have to learn from this year in order to push forward. In the future we hope brands can take more responsibility or build upon it and hopefully by doing so will improve and enhance the relationships they have with their consumers, and their ability to make more of a difference and positive impact on the world.