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Ethical branding – the big reset

Covid-19 has given us all a collective purpose and has turned a spotlight on the social resolve of every business. The 1990s term ‘purpose before profits’ is back in vogue as the pandemic tests our humanity and values. And, according to Gartner’s CMO Spend Survey 2020, 33% of chief marketing officers cite brand strategy as their most vital competency, up from the near bottom of the list in 2019.

As brands try to build trust without handshakes, it’s the character and values of their core brand that are now being looked at in new terms. Empathy, compassion and understanding are in. So are listening, empowerment and kindness. Neglecting vulnerable people, exploiting the situation and forgetting loyalty are out. After all, this crisis is about really supporting people in a difficult time, not constantly gratifying shareholders.   

So, if these brands really want people to start trusting, what part of their brand strategy do they need to reset? 

Reset 1: business resilience and safety

People want to feel safe and if they don’t, your business has a problem. This can range from banking customers knowing their money is secure through to physical retailers ensuring safety in stores with hand sanitisers and wayfinding. This often means companies need to show that they can change fast in response to their customers’ needs, pivot assets when markets become unstable, prioritise vulnerable customers and innovate at pace. Communications have to be thoughtful, simple to understand and relevant to people’s daily lives, so they do not feel like they are being disrupted even more. 

Reset 2: employee wellbeing

Protecting employees in frontline roles is a given for any brand, but that doesn’t just mean focusing on tangible fixes (eg masks, signs, extra cleaning). Chief executive officers need to prove they have a people-first strategy by reaching out and really listening to their staff. They should be using video to humanise communications, share stories, learnings and advice to their workforce. They also need to act in real-time to employee needs, so the business is seen to be pulling together in the crises. 

Customers still want person-to-person interaction, even if it is from a distance. It’s therefore crucial that companies spell out what measures they are taking to keep their staff and customers safe and address new problems quickly to show that your company truly cares.

Reset 3: help not sell

The pandemic has changed the way we shop, with a surge in online shopping during the first lockdown. Companies must not rest on their laurels, despite 65% of UK customers having tried new shopping behaviours since the pandemic and with a huge 80% (McKinsey, Oct 2020) intending to continue with these changes. Value, convenience and availability are most often cited as top drivers of consumers’ decisions about where to shop – however, quality and purpose are the more important considerations when choosing new brands.

Brands need to understand the changes in their customers’ behaviour and find ways to create loyalty with them, and that starts with building trust. Customers want empathy, not just discounting or cross-selling. Looking after and appreciating your customers has never been more paramount – brands need to show they are serving communities, anticipate doubts, empowering customers, caring about what they care about to build trust.

Reset 4: supply chain standards

The need to have a secure, well-diversified and ethical supply chain has taken on new relevance in the pandemic.

The Covid-19 crisis has made people more conscious of sustainability and the environment. They have become choosier and want to see big businesses supporting mutually beneficial, local supplier relationships. They expect ethical sourcing of paper and mindful production of printed materials. Consequently, brands are looking closely at supply chain efficacy and have started localising their supplier network to save time and improve brand salience.

Suppliers in turn must be properly ISO and Mailmark accredited and PCI DSS certified. From a brand perspective, having a flexible and resilient supply chain builds competitive advantage, accelerates growth, improves customer satisfaction, increases savings and cash flows and ultimately reduces risk. And companies that pull out the stops for critical suppliers and small businesses will be looked on favourably as the economy restarts. 

Reset 5: environmental societal governance (ESG) factors

Some companies have been accused of ‘greenwashing’ for the last decade and certain sectors have been slower to show how they contribute to societal, economic and environmental progress. However, the pandemic is forcing all sectors to help the world explore alternative ways to recover from the crisis in the long-term. Brands that are winning are calmly promoting clean and green economic stimulus packages and are also using their capital to finance the transition to a low-carbon economy. By doing this, they can demonstrate the purpose behind what their organisation does – the reason it exists, and why it matters today and in the future.

In the long term, this big reset will be a good thing for businesses across all sectors as it forces them to re-assess and align their brands. The reset is making sectors reevaluate how businesses can treat customers fairly, acting in their best interests giving clear information and providing products and services that meet new expectations. Brands need to be conscious of the responsibility they hold to be part of a new future.

James Lawton-Hill is marketing director at APS Group.

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Covid-19 has given us all a collective purpose and has turned a spotlight on the social resolve of every business. The 1990s term ‘purpose before profits’ is back in vogue as the pandemic tests our humanity and values. And, according to Gartner’s CMO Spend Survey 2020, 33% of chief marketing officers cite brand strategy as their most vital competency, up from the near bottom of the list in 2019.

As brands try to build trust without handshakes, it’s the character and values of their core brand that are now being looked at in new terms. Empathy, compassion and understanding are in. So are listening, empowerment and kindness. Neglecting vulnerable people, exploiting the situation and forgetting loyalty are out. After all, this crisis is about really supporting people in a difficult time, not constantly gratifying shareholders.   

So, if these brands really want people to start trusting, what part of their brand strategy do they need to reset? 

Reset 1: business resilience and safety

People want to feel safe and if they don’t, your business has a problem. This can range from banking customers knowing their money is secure through to physical retailers ensuring safety in stores with hand sanitisers and wayfinding. This often means companies need to show that they can change fast in response to their customers’ needs, pivot assets when markets become unstable, prioritise vulnerable customers and innovate at pace. Communications have to be thoughtful, simple to understand and relevant to people’s daily lives, so they do not feel like they are being disrupted even more. 

Reset 2: employee wellbeing

Protecting employees in frontline roles is a given for any brand, but that doesn’t just mean focusing on tangible fixes (eg masks, signs, extra cleaning). Chief executive officers need to prove they have a people-first strategy by reaching out and really listening to their staff. They should be using video to humanise communications, share stories, learnings and advice to their workforce. They also need to act in real-time to employee needs, so the business is seen to be pulling together in the crises. 

Customers still want person-to-person interaction, even if it is from a distance. It’s therefore crucial that companies spell out what measures they are taking to keep their staff and customers safe and address new problems quickly to show that your company truly cares.

Reset 3: help not sell

The pandemic has changed the way we shop, with a surge in online shopping during the first lockdown. Companies must not rest on their laurels, despite 65% of UK customers having tried new shopping behaviours since the pandemic and with a huge 80% (McKinsey, Oct 2020) intending to continue with these changes. Value, convenience and availability are most often cited as top drivers of consumers’ decisions about where to shop – however, quality and purpose are the more important considerations when choosing new brands.

Brands need to understand the changes in their customers’ behaviour and find ways to create loyalty with them, and that starts with building trust. Customers want empathy, not just discounting or cross-selling. Looking after and appreciating your customers has never been more paramount – brands need to show they are serving communities, anticipate doubts, empowering customers, caring about what they care about to build trust.

Reset 4: supply chain standards

The need to have a secure, well-diversified and ethical supply chain has taken on new relevance in the pandemic.

The Covid-19 crisis has made people more conscious of sustainability and the environment. They have become choosier and want to see big businesses supporting mutually beneficial, local supplier relationships. They expect ethical sourcing of paper and mindful production of printed materials. Consequently, brands are looking closely at supply chain efficacy and have started localising their supplier network to save time and improve brand salience.

Suppliers in turn must be properly ISO and Mailmark accredited and PCI DSS certified. From a brand perspective, having a flexible and resilient supply chain builds competitive advantage, accelerates growth, improves customer satisfaction, increases savings and cash flows and ultimately reduces risk. And companies that pull out the stops for critical suppliers and small businesses will be looked on favourably as the economy restarts. 

Reset 5: environmental societal governance (ESG) factors

Some companies have been accused of ‘greenwashing’ for the last decade and certain sectors have been slower to show how they contribute to societal, economic and environmental progress. However, the pandemic is forcing all sectors to help the world explore alternative ways to recover from the crisis in the long-term. Brands that are winning are calmly promoting clean and green economic stimulus packages and are also using their capital to finance the transition to a low-carbon economy. By doing this, they can demonstrate the purpose behind what their organisation does – the reason it exists, and why it matters today and in the future.

In the long term, this big reset will be a good thing for businesses across all sectors as it forces them to re-assess and align their brands. The reset is making sectors reevaluate how businesses can treat customers fairly, acting in their best interests giving clear information and providing products and services that meet new expectations. Brands need to be conscious of the responsibility they hold to be part of a new future.

James Lawton-Hill is marketing director at APS Group.

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