How’s this for an understatement: we are living through difficult and unprecedented times. As we confront the interconnected realities of a global pandemic, economic crisis, and a long overdue reckoning with racial injustice, we—individuals and organizations—are faced with a lot of uncertainty. Still, in our recent webinar, The Case for Optimism*, I felt inspired by my colleague Judy Melanson and Marketing & Brand Strategist Armin Molavi to lead through uncertainty with optimism.
With this conversation in mind, I believe there are three key focus areas that will help brands, and other organizations, navigate these challenging times and build a better future:
1. SHOW GENUINE EMPATHY & TAKE ACTION
True empathy and compassion are critical in building strong relationships. Many brands know people are suffering and they are taking steps to honor those working to keep us safe and to support those in need. But it feels as if many brands opened-up the crisis playbook and followed the same formula. There is even a YouTube mashup of recent COVID-19 ads showing this, but several leading brands—like LinkedIn, Hilton, and American Express—have found genuine and unique ways to show empathy.
In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, LinkedIn Learning is providing free courses on diversity and inclusion to help users understand the challenges preventing equitable workplaces.
Hilton and American Express have teamed up to ease the burden COVID-19 has placed on our frontline workers. They have donated up to 1 million free room nights to medical professionals battling the pandemic. These rooms allow them to ‘sleep, recharge, or isolate from their families’ without worry or financial stress.
2. REDEFINE LOYALTY & PARTNERSHIP
Loyalty is a relationship—a two-way street. For years, brands have worked to develop a large following of consumers who are loyal to their product/service, but now is the time for brands to show their loyalty and commitment. Leading brands do right by their customers to demonstrate their commitment and strengthen the relationship, no matter the cost.
Credit card companies, insurance companies, and other creditors are delaying payment due dates and waiving late fees. Auto insurance companies have seen a precipitous drop in insurance claims saving them millions. But rather than pocket those profits several companies including American Family Insurance are providing refunds directly to policyholders. In fact, American Family Insurance is refunding customers $50 per insured vehicle plus a 10% credit on personal auto policies adding up to over $450 million in support at a time when many customers could use the extra cash.
As Armin discussed in the webinar, establishing partnerships is another strong way to prioritize the consumer over the brand. In the retail space, organizations big and small are pledging sustainable action and investment, whether it’s Aurora James’ 15 Percent Pledge and/or Claude Home’s call to donate proceeds to support the Black businesses and anti-racist work one day a month. These leaders are uniting brands to support the Black Lives Matter movement by building relationships with consumers and other businesses.
3. BE BOLD
I am inspired by the courage of those who have long fought for racial equality and heartened that we will see real change. During the height of the Covid-19 outbreak several manufacturers switched their focus from their own products to developing medical supplies and equipment. Ford Motor Company stopped several vehicle assembly lines and partnered with 3M to manufacture respirators for frontline workers and ventilators for patients battling Covid-19.
While some brands have played it safe in response to the Black Lives Matter Movement by just blacking out their social media accounts for a day or issuing a cookie cutter response, there are others demonstrating moral clarity and leadership, including Ben & Jerry’s and Nike.
Ben & Jerry’s has always been a leader in corporate social responsibility and has made it their mission to make the world a better place. They proudly issued “We Must Dismantle White Supremacy”, along with a four-step call to action to seek out ways to drive change. Their characteristic boldness, and steadfast focus on social issues over the bottom line, is an example of strong corporate leadership.
I have also been inspired by Nike’s attention on racial injustice, a cause they have championed for years (see Colin Kaepernick) and is deeply engrained in their corporate values. Their recent ‘For Once, Don’t Do It’ video plays on the ad’s iconic ‘Just Do It’ tagline and shines a spot light on the cause. It is a great example of a brand continuing to live its values through an authentic, trustworthy message.
The fact is, most of us (myself included) have a whole lot of work to do, and bold statements must be backed by bold action and accountability.
The future can seem like a scary place but if we show empathy, demonstrate loyalty & develop partnerships, and act boldly we can all emerge from these crises with a brighter future.
*Recorded Thursday, May 28, 2020
John Conti is an Account Director at CMB.