March 27, 2020

When a Global Pandemic Reveals the Shortfalls in Your Purpose

It’s an understatement to say that 2020 just has not been our year. From fires to floods, and now a global pandemic that is igniting a global economic crisis, we as a collective public have had a lot to deal with in the past 3 months. And while many brands have stepped up to the plate and put people and public health before profit, these have unfortunately been the minority.

Currently, Australia is in varying degrees of lockdown and isolation. Brands and companies are learning to cope and adapt to a dire situation that changes by the hour. Some have modified their services in order to adhere to strict lockdown laws (i.e. cafes and restaurants only open for takeaway/delivery) while others have completely shut up shop and stood down their workforce for the foreseeable future.


And while it is understandable that a brand needs to do what’s best to keep itself afloat during this crisis, a lot of companies are doing so at the expense of their loyal workforce and in defiance of their brand purpose.


An example of this is a brand that operates within Australia and throughout the world. While their heavily marketed brand purpose is skewed towards supporting downtrodden communities and empowering charitable movements, they have so far failed to support their own community of staff. At the time of publication, this company has closed all its brick-and-mortar stores in every market that it operates in. However, they only seem to be financially supporting staff that are lucky enough to live within profitable regions; unfortunately, Australia is not one of those.


From reports, the Australian retail staff have been stood down for an indefinite amount of time without any financial compensation whatsoever from the brand. And while I am sure that the brand does have (what they feel as) valid reasons for doing so, they are blatantly going against the brand purpose that they so happily advertise in order to sell their products.


How can they so eagerly sell their charity products to help fund human rights movements when they are ignoring the human crisis happening within their own organisation? This apparent cognitive dissonance speaks to the shallowness of their brand purpose. While this writer is certain that this brand began with only the best of intentions, that humanness seems to have gotten lost in its transition into a global conglomerate. And while we have no intention of singling out any particular brand in a time like this, we feel that there is a lesson to be learned here.


So, what can a brand that finds itself in this position do? How can they safeguard their brand purpose and look out for their people, while remaining profitable? There is no easy answer and at this point, we’ve surpassed remedying the current situation so we have to look at policies and practices that can be put in place to ensure this never happens again.


See this as an opportunity.


While it’s easy to succumb to your flight or fight responses in times like this, a purposeful company will see this as an opportunity for reconfiguration, renewal, or even rebirth. While everybody is (hopefully) self-isolating, it may be a good time to shine some light on your brand strategy and discover ways to improve it and safeguard it should another global catastrophe happen. While you and your staff are working from home, try out a video brand session with your team using our free brand messaging guide here.


Put people before profit.


Brands who position themselves as purposeful and charitable need to include their workforce in their CSR efforts. Afterall, charity does indeed start at home. So, whether this means allowing for more hours for compassionate leave, having a more generous parental leave policy, or putting in place a financial plan-of-action to cover their staff should another pandemic grind the world to a halt, corporations need to begin making deliberate moves that put the wellbeing of their people first and foremost.


Stay genuine to your purpose.


With more and more brands playing in this “purpose-driven” field of marketing, to the consumer, brand purpose can become overused and diluted.  However, with a global crisis like the one we’re currently experiencing, it becomes very easy to weed out the disingenuous. To stand out in the crowd, your brand has to mean what it says. Find ways to help society that is aligned to your purpose. For example, if your purpose is to bring quality education to the world, offer free e-learning courses to your customers or temporarily suspend payment for your subscription services. See this article or this for more examples of brands doing the right thing.    


Seek out meaningful partnerships


Now more than ever, each and every brand has an obligation to help.  Regardless of your brand’s purpose, you can make an effort (small or big) to support and partner with NGO’s, government bodies, and researchers to work towards a solution. While you may not be in the position to provide medical advice and help, you can explore other avenues to provide support such as food banks, employment services, delivery, etc. It is times like these that brands need to leverage their connectivity and ability for the greater good regardless of profit margins.


These are extraordinary circumstances and they call for extraordinary action. You as a brand have to remember to remain human. How you choose to behave and react to this crisis will directly correlate to how loyal your customers and your workforce will be when this is all over. So, remember, lead with humanity. We are after all, all in this together.   



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