I was reluctant to write this piece when asked, given the sensitivity of the subject, I felt it might be regarded as crass and insensitive. But what I’ve seen over the last few days from brands demonstrating great acts of kindness is nothing short of inspiring.
And should be acknowledged.
There has never been a more important time for brands to demonstrate their purpose. That is, their role in society beyond making profit.
Purpose was born out of crisis, which some brands saw a long time before others. It has grown rapidly over the last few years in response to the extraordinary social and environmental crisis’ we face. The expectation from people that brands should do something to help tackle this has escalated dramatically. Brands that don’t have a clear purpose are increasingly seen as irrelevant and lacking an emotional connection with their audience.
So, how should a brand demonstrate its purpose during this COVID-19 crisis?
The COVID-19 requires our immediate attention. This is not the moment to start a process to develop a purpose framework or to let normal process and procedures get in the way.
The secret to doing this well is for brands to start acting with greater humanity. Businesses and brands are made of, and depend on, one thing – people. If brands want to be relevant to our lives as employers or suppliers they need to connect emotionally, now more than ever before. That means demonstrating and emphasising human behaviours such as kindness, compassion and empathy.
In response to this immediate crisis, brands need to consider stakeholder needs first, working from the inside out – their employees, customers, the communities they work in and wider society.
They need to consider where they can have the greatest impact by leveraging their operational capability, their product or service and their influence.
They should communicate their commitment in a way that benefits as many people as possible. But I wouldn’t advise they celebrate their behaviour. Let others acknowledge and share their behaviour for now.
Brands that have demonstrated their purpose brilliantly, range from LVMH shifting production to make hand sanitiser and Iceland allotting certain hours for the over 70s (which others are now following), to PRET offering NHS staff free hot drinks.
Here are a few others that stand out:
- BrewDog starting to make and giveaway hand santiser
- Uber Eats waiving delivery fees and commission for independent restaurants
- LinkedIn providing 16 online learning courses for free
- Jameson pledging £500,000 to support Bartender’s Guild
- National Trust opening up parks for free to create more social space
At GOOD, we are also conscious of the positive impact we can have. We’re offering brands free consultancy sessions to give advice on how best to be purposeful during this crisis.
But this is no ‘street party moment’ when we return to our self-indulgent behaviour after the tables are folded away.
I believe that after we’ve made it through this crisis, we will see brands make a far greater commitment to purpose over the long-term.
The real test will be how this commitment to purpose is demonstrated. Once you remove the apparent immediacy of the crisis will brands shift back into procrastination, excuses and lip service?
The social and environmental crisis’ we face pose a greater threat to the world than COVID-19 and require an extraordinary effort by everyone – just like the Coronavirus.
Once brands have proven (to themselves more than anyone) that acting with greater humanity does make a positive difference to their stakeholders, wider society and the business bottom line, they will find it much easier to take on the social and environmental crisis’ that still needs to be solved.
In doing so, the world will be a far better place for us all. And that is something to inspire us through these difficult times.
CEO, GOOD Agency