Recent history has shown that in times of crisis it’s the brands that stay in touch with their customers and offer genuine care and value that come out of tough times stronger and better for it. By applying the lessons of 2008 to today, we can build bold, properly purpose-driven brands. For the long term.
After the financial crash in 2008 brands realised that to stay relevant they needed to demonstrate a greater sense of connection, community and empathy for their customers.
People wanted brands that mattered to their lives. Brands that are principled, authentic, and environmentally and socially aware. Brands that align with our greater consciousness of who we are and what we stand for.
The rise of brand purpose
Rightly, after the crash, many brands took notice and realised the importance of their brand purpose, understanding that to succeed as a brand you need to offer real value and make a positive difference to society. A snappy campaign line was no longer enough.
Since then the idea of brand purpose has been derided by many as nothing more than a vacuous statement based on a fallacy of marketing spin.
There have been many examples over the last few years of brands failing to live up to their positioning and to understand how to offer an authentic voice. Who can forget Pepsi’s infamous Kendel Jenner ad, for example?
Most people are very uncomfortable with the misuse of brand purpose and the overreach of lofty brand statements. The public is right to challenge brands when they fail to live up to their altruistic talk, though that isn’t to say that brand purpose no longer has relevance.
For your brand purpose to really work it has to be an honest expression of your intent and your actions. Built on consistency, it should be a long-term commitment to offer real value. You need to follow through. Brand purpose falls down when a company fails to deliver on its promises.
Right now, it can be tempting to hunker down
Fast-forward to 2020 and the world is facing a crisis like no other. Business is grappling with how best to react.
The natural response in such situations is often to batten down the hatches — to hunker down and hope this will all blow over soon. After which brands can move forward just like they did before.
The logic goes like this: if people aren’t spending, what’s the point of engaging?
If people aren't spending, what's the point of engaging?
This is often tied to a fixation with ROI and over-emphasis on quarterly results as the yardstick for success. Yet this short-termism has been proven to be a misguided approach for some time now.
More emphasis needs to be put onto long-term brand engagement. ‘The Long and the Short of It: Balancing Short and Long-Term Marketing Strategies’ — a 2013 publication by marketing consultants Les Binet and Peter Field — found that on average brands should invest 60% of budgets in long-term brand building and 40% in short-term sales-driving activity.
Now’s the time to build a positive legacy
It is now more than ever that a brand needs to focus on long-term brand building. This is the time to prove there’s real credibility behind your brand purpose.
Remember it’s not just brands that are fearful right now — the public are too. The current situation is leading to a huge amount of financial anxiety, as well as fears for our health, wellbeing, and our long-term futures. The public are looking for brands to provide positive support and to help in any way they can.
Brands need to ask themselves these questions:
- How do we wish to be remembered once this is all over?
- Do we want to be the brand that sat on the sidelines?
- Or rather be the brand that stood behind its purpose and showed our community that we could truly be trusted, that we care?
Now is the time to add real value to your customers and to society.
This is not the time for your brand to take time out or to focus on short-term ROI.
We are right as a society to expect businesses to add intrinsic value to people’s lives. And we are right to expect that now, more than ever.
It’s up to brands to truly prove their worth and to demonstrate that they have real integrity. It’s easy to make bold statements when the sun is shining. It’s less easy when things get gritty. But this is when and how your brand will be judged. It takes a lifetime to build up a reputation and only a moment to tear it down.
Acting with real purpose takes care of profit
There are of course serious and understandable concerns for companies in the current climate, particularly with regards to finances and protecting staff. Tough decisions have to be made and naturally brands will have to be sensible in how far they can stretch themselves right now.
But, as recent history has proven, staying in touch and being there for your customers makes business sense. Peter Field has reflected on the winners and losers from 2008. He found that brands that drastically cut spend and ‘went quiet’ saw their market share and profits fall in the long term.
If you choose to be brave — to take that leap to connect with your brand’s audience at this time, and to offer real value — you won’t see a sudden return on your investment. What you will build, however, is a legacy as a business that stood by its customers, made a positive difference, and demonstrated true loyalty. That is what long-term brand success is built on.
And it’s the greatest ROI you’ll ever achieve.