“If you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best.” - Marylin Monroe
Strange times we are living. A lockdown is a matter of time, today we can’t hug our dearest and have to resort to elbow bumping and namaste to say hello to our friends. We went from sharing everything in the sharing economy era to social distancing and not sharing anymore (stock piling anyone?). It’s all a bit odd in a ‘28 days later meets Contagion’ way. I hope good things come out of this crisis but, for now, this feels like the worst of times.
It goes without saying that how we (humanity), governments and brands behave in this time of crisis will matter for a long long long time.
The truth is we are all tired of brands only being there for us when times are good.
By now, post two world wars and the 2008 GFC, we all know how the story goes. Major crisis leading to uncertainty leading to a recession leading to a reduction in marketing spend and focus on short-term product sales.
But it makes no sense. In times of uncertainty people need more from brands than ever. And surely in the wake of COVID-19 times have never been more uncertain.
People across the nation are worried about their own health and those of their loved ones. As the FTSE 100 fall harder (-33%) than post 9/11(-14%) and even the 2008 GFC (-19%) they also worry about their long-term security.
And what do brands do?
Some batten down the hatches, slash media budgets (according to the Guardian, TV and media investments are to be cut in Q2 by at least 10%).
Others announce closures and lay people off.
Others decide not to pay their employees due to the business pressure of the moment.
All of which frankly makes no sense.
In the 2000s, post the Twin Towers and the 2008 GFC the world became more demanding of brands. When Government and charities couldn’t afford or do enough to fix what was broken, brands had an opportunity to be disproportionally meaningful. This is when they broaden their positionings from product-led to purpose-led and started to do good in the world. When taken seriously and done properly, purpose made brands famous and, time and time again, was linked to business growth. In the most recent Edelman Trust Barometer, 73% of people expected companies to make a positive social impact and 76% expect CEOs to take action before governments.
I think brands need to step up now more than ever before, not shy away.
So, what can brands do?
Well this is not about ads or awards. Stop reading right now if you even have an inclining of a thought about drinking Rose in Cannes. Stop. Please Stop. This is a time for action, not words.
The brands that will win are to do so because they understand the insurmountable value of being part of society, making a difference in such difficult times and, above all, they understand the value of thinking long, not short.
Whether it be Iceland offering an exclusive shopping slot for the elderly and most vulnerable or LVMH switch in production line to making hand sanitisers. They are the ones who will win at this time of crisis and beyond.
Also let me reassure even the most hardlined CFO & CMO, this generosity makes economic sense.
Quite simply if you can help and reassure people at their worst, they will love you when things are better.
This isn’t some high-brow planning theory however, there is evidence from the past to make the case. Think back to one of the biggest crises facing humanity, World War 2. Heinz Beans contributed so much to the war effort that it actually became a target for German bombers. Same goes for M&S and its invaluable efforts to make enough, quality clothing with limited resources, the commitment of the company and its employees, who took part in fire watching, raised money for a Spitfire, set up soup kitchens and helped to care for wounded soldiers. This generosity of spirit undoubtedly played a role in establishing them as nation's favourites. Same goes for Cadbury’s, Royal Mail...there must be countless other examples of brands going above and beyond and reaping the benefit long term.
Hopefully all of the above doesn’t come as a revelation. How many times have you sat in a meeting and dreamed of doing good in the world and not just sell more products? If we are industry obsessed with brand purpose, now is our time to think long-term, increase investment in brand (not product) and act purposefully.