The Importance of Brand Values During a Crisis
A stable foundation for any brand requires a concrete set of values, revealing the company’s purpose in order to attract the right employees and reach the right customers. Integrity, quality and commitment to customers - every brand has its own message. But during a global pandemic, promoting that you’re caring for your community (without taking action) could invite scrutiny. So, if talk is cheap - does it take deep pockets to keep your brand promises? Trusted companies do have a serious responsibility during crisis. People used to turn to politicians - but as co-founder of Verity London, Debra Sobel explains, we don’t trust them like we used to, and consumers have started looking to brands for solutions to societal issues. “There are winners and losers, and the intelligent brands, the competitive brands, are the ones that realise they need to activate their purpose now. They need to communicate effectively and be authentic. In the long term they will gain.” After years of carefully planned marketing and cleverly crafted copy reassuring us we can put our trust in companies, we’ve started expecting them to catch us when we fall - and butter-fingered brands might be nudged to the side. So, who can companies look to for examples of ‘intelligent’ and ‘competitive’? As always, Pret-a-Manger provides a masterclass. Midway through March, the CEO took to his blog to thank the NHS - and then backed it up by making hot drinks free for NHS workers, plus a 50% discount on all other products. A few days later, when he announced that Pret were closing all UK shops to protect their teams - he added that any remaining food would be donated to those in need. This action aligned perfectly with the brand’s core value: ‘Happy Teams, Happy Customers.’ But not everybody is in the position for such gestures, and sometimes being true to your values requires a different kind of creative thinking. When the COVID-19 crisis first hit the US, small-batch distilleries (built on community values) tried to share their alcohol with hand sanitiser companies struggling to meet demand. Although they initially came up against legal issues with strict regulations, the industry began to pay attention and make noise, and laws were waived to allow the distilleries to produce their own hand sanitiser, which many are now giving away - to vulnerable members of their communities - for free. And happily, good ideas spread. The sharing of information is crucial during these times and with many brands touting honesty and integrity as core values, it’s vital for any updates to be thoroughly fact-checked before they’re shared. Look to Samaritans, who are gathering and updating resources to help people look after their own mental health and that of their loved ones. Happiful are doing it well too, punctuating their Working From Home listicles with up-to-date infographics, and creating a network of nuanced advice for people in need of specific help. Marguerite, a club for women who work in the arts, have an ethos of making art accessible to all. They're now opening up their (now free) events to everyone and are offering virtual craft events every weekend, sharing new ways to get that ‘Aha’ moment. Their actions are perfectly aligned with their brand values: making art accessible to all. As the saying goes, It’s better to remain silent and be thought of as intelligent and wise than to speak and to remove all doubt - and when you’re not sure what to say on social it’s tempting to stay quiet. But if you have a loyal following, be wary. Disappearing now might leave them feeling abandoned - consistency is everything so maintaining a presence on social media and do to keep publishing relevant content. Rikki Jones (regional managing director, APAC, GCI Health) explains, “the brands who continue to communicate factually and with empathy at this time have the chance to resurface from the crisis with deeper consumer and customer connection.” As long as you’re communicating with sensitivity and adding value to your audience–whether it’s through (uplifting and tasteful) memes or even sharing with them some tips and tricks that you have found helpful to get you through this period you should be fine to check in on your audience through social media and continue to build brand awareness.
But before you reach for your marketing, Lydia Lee (President of Weber Shandwick China) recommends caution: “If a company acts against its stated or embodied values by prioritising publicity at the wrong time, it may be seen as opportunistic or callous." People have three things on their minds at the moment - their health, their wealth and staying sane whilst staying home. As we strengthen our global community by spending more time online, it’s our responsibility to help our clients get aligned on their vision, their goals and their values and to make sure that everything they share is within the current context and is meaningful. Community is key. If you can support yours now by championing them on social media, you will be thanked for it now and they will remember it later.
This is the right time to focus on establishing, revisiting and aligning with your core values, so you can hit the ground running with a good brand when the time comes. As we’re now all spending more time online, now could be the best time to invest in your future business and to turn your attention both ways - first inwards, using your brand's defining values for guidance and then outwards, towards the people putting faith in you. Take the challenges everybody is struggling with into account and most of all, ask not what your community can do for you - but what you can do for your community.