Actions speak louder

It was only a few weeks ago that my inbox was bursting with emails from CEOs of companies I had made purchases from in the past. In most cases, quite some time ago. Naturally, they were all keen to let me know they are looking after employees and they are there for me through these challenging times. Important stuff, although I've not heard much from them since, with one or two exceptions.

Marketing during a pandemic is tricky, with the potential for significant reputational damage for getting it wrong. We saw that 'finger lickin' good' didn't play out well for KFC back in March. However, done in the right way, actions can be hugely positive.

There are three key steps to doing this well. First, being clear about the place a brand has to act in a socially responsible way given the context. Early on in this crisis the concerns of consumers have been functional, with needs around health, feeing safe, community, accessing accurate information and relevant experience they can trust.

Second, brands need to act. We have seen a number of examples of this like LVMH making hand sanitiser, Burberry making medical masks and gowns, McLaren F1 working with other engineers to make ventilators. In the short term these activities will not sell more perfume, coats or sports cars in the short run, they are maintaining and enhancing their mental availability.

There are more straightforward examples as well. The emails Addison Lee have been sending to customers update on the free rides they are giving to NHS staff, and making it easy to donate money to this cause. A short and clear EE advert follows a similar theme with Kevin Bacon brushing aside his normal humour and giving NHS workers unlimited data until October.

Great stuff. One last step to go.

Thirdly, the benefit of the actions, in terms of how it converts into longer term brand value, needs to be explained to stakeholders. This takes us back to the first step, as it unpacks why a brand exists beyond short term profit (perhaps even a higher purpose) to drive better behaviours in society. It's a way to see how marketing helps drive social good.

As they say, 'if you've seen one pandemic, you've seen one pandemic'. There is no playbook and much of the classic advice does not wash well. For example, increasing your marketing budget in a recession is blunt advice at best, and has a predatory feel to it. Setting out to out spend and steal market share from weaker competitors during in a pandemic induced recession is unlikely to sit well with consumers who are more community spirited.

Taking action is key, which does not mean just send me an email saying you care and then disappear. Or make an ad with sombre music letting me know we will get through this together, and then do nothing. You may have seen this reel demonstrating how US brand messaging is all the same right now.

The pandemic provides an opportunity for brands to identify the socially responsible role they can play in consumers' lives and go further to actively demonstrate the benefit of any shared values.

This Thought Leadership blog is one of a series written by Marketors to provoke debate and help make marketing more relevant to businesses and society. If you would you like to share your wisdom, please click here for details and how to get in touch.

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