What some brands may perceive as low demand directly attributed due to the pandemic, may actually be the result of consumers’ reactions to how those brands are behaving. A recent global survey found that one in three consumers have already stopped buying a brand’s products or services – based on how that brand has responded to the COVID19 pandemic. Even more interesting, is that 71% would lose trust in a brand forever (for life) if a brand was viewed as prioritizing profit before people.

A brand’s purpose, their leadership team, and their ability to clearly communicate with compassion and transparency during this crisis are all key factors in demonstrating responsibility in consumers’ minds.   What does being a responsible brand mean during a pandemic? 

Responses show that 90% of consumers hope that brands will do everything within their capability to support their staff and suppliers. And, when and where possible help the general public and those who are directly affected by the crisis. Brands around the world are finding ways to live their purpose and put action behind those words.

A great example of a brand that acted swiftly to protect customers was Starbucks, who early on suspended the use of reusable cups temporarily worldwide. This was followed by closing all in-store cafes and providing free therapy sessions for staff as they deal with the emotional impact of the crisis. Recently, Starbucks announced a donation to front line responders along with free coffee. Starbucks’ brand promise is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

When the virus was initially spreading (not yet a pandemic) Lush cosmetics offered free hand washing to anyone – not even just customers – in stores. Their brand ethos is centered around the belief that they can make a difference in the world with the choices they make as a brand.

Budweiser, a brand that has successfully built consumer engagement through “inspiring ordinary people to do extraordinary things,” has responded to the COVID-19 situation by creating the “one team” campaign. Through this initiative they are diverting advertising spend toward non-profit organizations who are helping to manage the crisis including a $5 million donation to the American Red Cross and helping to identify arenas and stadiums to help with blood drives. 

Chipotle has focused their energy on finding ways to connect people, including providing customers with a fun way to hang out for a virtual lunch. Building on their brand purpose and belief that with every burrito they roll or bowl they fill, they’re working to cultivate a better world, Chipotle is sending free burrito boxes to healthcare facilities to thank “healthcare heroes” during World Health Worker Week.

CVS drugstores have quickly built up online shopping and are providing parking lots for testing as well as bonusing employees (essential front line workers providing patients with medications) in response to the pandemic. Their purpose is helping people on their path to better health.

Under Armour took the approach of inspiring individuals and families to stay active at home with a “Healthy at Home Fitness Challenge”, while donating to Feeding America to support hunger relief efforts. The heartbeat of the brand is centered around making athletes better and empowering them in everything they do. 

Even smaller businesses like Clove, a relatively new to market shoe retailer, are donating shoes and compression socks to healthcare workers on the front lines. Their mission: take care of those who take care of others.  

Headspace, a well known meditation app with one the largest meditation libraries in the world and a mission to improve the health and happiness of the world, is offering free access to healthcare workers. 

Fitbit’s brand purpose is to empower and inspire people to live a healthier, more active life. With gyms closed everywhere due to COVID19, Fitbit is providing critically important data (securely and within privacy laws) to healthcare organizations to aid in improving prediction of the virus. They are also offering consumers free trials of the app and businesses free access to the enterprise software so they can help their employees take care of themselves.

What does it mean to have a noble brand purpose?  

A brand purpose is more than a feel good statement and some high fives around the leadership table. Rather, it requires articulating a clear vision around a noble cause that demonstrates how your brand goes above and beyond its product or service. Then, to bring this to life, a brand needs a long-term strategy that defines how the organization will engage staff, partners and even customers in living the purpose. Your brand doesn’t need to be a superhero. Rather, a brand’s purpose serves as an anchor that enables brands to express a consistent set of values towards its audience – delivering clear communications at every opportunity or interaction, to engage employees and consumers around the ‘why’ and the larger vision.

And, now more than ever transparent communication around the actions your brand is taking to live up to your purpose are hugely important. In fact, 90% say they expect brands to be wholly transparent in what they are doing and to keep people fully informed during the pandemic.

If your brand’s purpose needs fixing, there’s never been a better time than now.  

Global Survey: Edelman, Published by WARC

Lori Cox

Lori Cox

Lori is Founder and Chief Strategist of Phoenix Arbor. Leading the charge in helping brands harness the power of audience engagement principles resulting in increased advocacy and affinity with their internal and external audiences.