It came across loud and clear in the Prime Minister’s historic address this week and in the updates that have followed, that we must all ‘do our bit’ to get through this crisis and to keep the country on its feet. It’s our collective responsibility to do whatever it takes to keep each other safe so we can beat this thing.
The response has been unprecedented and humbling.
We have seen thousands of former NHS workers come back to the front line.
More than 400,000 people have volunteered to help the NHS.
Organisations the world over have announced substantial commitments to contribute to the global effort. For there has never been a more important time for brands to live their purpose and their values – from the way they support their employees and customers to their contribution to their community and wider society.
Together, these actions really are impacting lives.
It’s indicative of the speed of change over the last couple of weeks that Pret a Manger’s promise to offer free and discounted food and drink to all NHS workers feels like it was months ago (it’s been a week). Brands have been falling over each other since then to use their reach, influence or expertise to help – from Heinz pledging 12 million school breakfasts to L’Occtaine sending hand cream to NHS workers on the frontline who are feeling the effects of stringent sanitising protocols. From John Lewis & Waitrose announcing a £1m community support fund to get help to those most in need to Twinkl making its online learning resources free to the millions of parents attempting to home-school their children. Every day sees a new pledge; a new way for organisations to contribute to the fight.
In response, we’ve seen increasing media interest in these so-called ‘brand acts’. Social media channels are filled with people sharing (and celebrating) news of big companies that are putting profits aside to concentrate on what really matters. Equally, journalists have been very ready to ‘call out’ those who have failed to live up to recently declared public commitments, or who are seen to be taking advantage of State-funded help while continuing to pay huge sums to their leaders (EasyJet).
The message is clear. Organisations have an opportunity to make a genuine impact on this crisis – and if they do it well, with authenticity and commitment, they may be rewarded with recognition and appreciation. But that should not, should never, be the point. Any sniff that promises are only being made to benefit the brand, and organisations will be punished – in the media, in the court of public opinion and potentially in the real courts, if the PM’s threat of legislation to criminalise profiteering comes to bear.
What is also clear though, is that communication at this time is vital. In their new report, “Brand marketing in a crisis: Why now is not time for silence”, Opinium Research reveal that a very large majority of people in the UK would like to hear either the same amount, or even more, from brands at the moment – across categories ranging from healthcare to fashion and beauty to entertainment.
Nevertheless, there is a delicate line that all organisations must tread between ‘keeping the lights on’ and letting their customers know they are there and what they are doing, and doing real damage by misjudging the tone, timing or focus of their content. Deep understanding of audiences, an acute awareness of the context in which we are all operating and above all, a genuine commitment to serving the greater good, must be the driving forces behind every marketing team’s plan for the next few weeks.
But I suspect it will continue for much longer than that – way beyond the end of this crisis. This experience will change things forever.
Perceptions of how we live, work and interact are bound to shift as we re-evaluate how we view and value togetherness, family, community, technology and more. Organisations must reflect on what this all means for how they will behave in the future and how they will adapt what they do, how they act and the way they engage with the people that matter to them.
The shift from commercialism to altruism and from selfishness to community-spirit, has been profound and I believe (and sincerely hope) the essence of that is here to stay, as a hopeful, positive outcome of this painful, frightening and ground-shifting experience that has united us all.
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