Look After Your Brand

It will help you through a pandemic (and any other crisis)

At the time of writing it has only been four plus weeks since the lockdown started and it’s been a roller coaster. Racing from a fool’s paradise into the reality stages of shock, disbelief and worry. We’ve watched the rise and plummet of the word ‘unprecedented’. Everyone’s hardwired for 2 metres. Hysterical videos in WhatsApp groups have come and gone. Baking bread. That patchy chatter in chopped-up Houseparties. And then a quietening acceptance as the new normal took hold. Such as speeding past others in a supermarket, holding your breath. Leaving food by someone’s front door before stepping promptly back. Staying at home, to protect the NHS. Knowing that it’s by luck and distance you are not adding to the alarming numbers announced each night. We are talking about life and death and people have been riding the waves of each day as best as they can.

Businesses are no different as they work out how to steer their way through this pandemic too. Like individuals, how does an organisation stagger through all this and emerge in survivable shape? On 14 April BBC News reported that the economy could shrink by 35% by June. If ever there was a time when the condition and emotional intelligence of a brand will be tested, it’s now. The way an organisation treats its employees is as much up for public scrutiny and discussion, as is every marketing email, tweet, insta etc. Each action is an opportunity to win trust or fail. There is no doubt that consumers are watching and making judgements that will affect organisations long after the lockdown lifts. The wise organisations are taking the temperature constantly and staying in touch with their client communities in imaginative ways that reflect their brand beliefs and are in tune with their customers. We want our favourite brands to be open, considerate and helpful because by association, they reflect us and our beliefs. This is a time when we are all blatantly thinking with our hearts and our antennae are highly tuned for cynical behaviours. Organisations who are only pumping out WFM bargains for furniture or clothes, even under the guise of helpfulness, are really leaving us cold.

In that first surreal lockdown week it was clear which brands had copy-and-pasted Covid 19 notices from other emails and slung them out. Even worse were the ones with a slightly tetchy tone asking people to be patient. It made the decent organisations stand out with their heartfelt and distinctive messages, where you could imagine the thoughtful person behind them, someone passionate about looking after their team and their customers. Those, often but not always, smaller organisations quickly followed up with community ideas. Like Miller Harris – donating all their soap and handwash stock to Age UK to pass on to elderly; running Fragrance Fridays events online; Toast doing a sew and mend workshop online which sold out. I was too late. I know how to sew but I wanted to take part anyway. More recently Hotel Chocolat offered an option to pause for a month on communications, recognising that not everyone was in the mood for Easter fun. Barbour, turning over their sewing teams to producing PPE, is an organisation making a critical contribution to supporting people we don’t know personally, but care about deeply, as they go to work on the NHS frontline. On the flipside Sports Direct came up with the idea they were going to keep their shops open and even Waitrose, a brand ace if ever there was one, had a moment over asking staff to make up their self-isolating hours at a later date. There was some rapid backpedalling. If an organisation is careless, they will have to bank on short memories and plan brand recovery work which is costly and could have been avoided.

So without a doubt this is the time to express a brand with sensitivity and make powerful emotional connections. If an organisation has exceptional self-awareness thanks to its brand, it will have the capacity to act quickly and instinctively get it right. It proves the value of brand as an asset which protects businesses in extraordinary, as well as ordinary, times. As consumers we all know that if we don’t support our favourite brands by buying their goods they will possibly disappear. At some point shopping will start again. But for now, it’s community first and thinking about mindsets, when people are being careful about money and looking for new ways to do the things they love to do.

It’s a straightforward truth – if a brand takes care of us, then we will stick with them.

Who’d have ever thought that Brexit would feel like a minor issue…?


Petra Boyce.