Brands, not governments, can be our COVID-19 cure
As we face the Coronavirus, I’m becoming more aware (and heartened, even) that brands are in a unique position to play a historical role in beating this virus. See, brands—from your corner restaurant to the world’s largest luxury goods conglomerate—have been thrown into an urgent position to be a nimbly-activated, globally-permeating force for good, and are heeding the call with haste. And history, and brands’ consumer bases, will judge the moves brands make over the next days and months to a degree never seen. This is beyond “cause,” or “CSR,” or “purpose,” it’s population health. And I’m astonished that we’re not seeing more accountability and activism already.
On this Sunday, as I’m stressed like the rest of us, I’m thinking about how to be a better catalyst as a brand consultant or, at the very least, enthusiastic consumer of the brands who’ve moved first and fast to sit at the solution’s edge, not the sideline.
And, based on a few examples I’ve seen just today, no brand, no matter category or size, has an excuse to not be part of the solution as we, globally, wrestle with a generational crisis in COVID-19. The sky may be falling, but stay with me, there are many “helpers” out there, and, they are increasingly brands.
Let’s start with three current state examples:
I was scrolling through instagram this morning and within a few thumbswipes, I saw three themes emerge from the brands I follow:
1) SALE! – this was the JCrew play, capitalizing on a newly captivated couch-shopper audience and hoping to hedge a downturn of khaki purchases. At the very least, tie a promotional call to action to a positive action by the brand.
2) Shut down and support – both lululemon and Apple, for example, are closing stores to minimize exposure and paying employees in honor of their shifts. Shut down to reduce risk, and be accountable to supporting your employees (many of whom are hourly and depend on shift work).
3) Step in and solve – the best example within today’s scrolling was LVMH, which will convert its perfume production lines into production lines for hand sanitizer, to be distributed, free of charge, in France.
I’m also inspired by some of my favorite local Denver restaurants like The Wayback and Cart Driver who have proactively closed to customers and reshaped their menus for take-away and curbside ordering. Or Ladybird Diner, in my hometown of Lawrence, which is not only closing, but offering no-questions-asked sack lunches. Facing a definite loss in revenue, this is the best decision for the public, but also helps ensure as many employees as possible can still come in and collect a paycheck. As loyal customers we get to safely order and tip (hopefully generously), while being part of an economic engine that, if it completely stalls, could decimate a whole segment of our neighbors.
And if it’s not yet clear that ANY brand can be an amplifier of good, let’s take a look at the power of socks! Bombas socks, which at first glance (like LVMH) has nothing to do with the fight against Coronavirus, sent a customer reminder today of how the recipients of their donated socks-per-purchase program, the homeless, are now more isolated than ever with public services and soup kitchens ending amidst this crisis. Instead of pointing toward a sale on socks, they pointed toward other “Giving” organizations we could contribute to.
So the question is not whether your brand, or if you’re a consulting strategist like I am, your clients’ brands, “should do something,” it’s “what happens should you not?”
There’s a fourth theme I didn’t mention: sit idly by. Wait, watch, and let others take the lead. Just as I hope we as a culture will change our behaviors, I hope we reward those brands that are taking stands proactively. And I’d hope we remember those that simply sat idly by. Either unable to see themselves as a force for good, were paralyzed by “what will people think of our motives?” or, were simply too mired in their own red tape and risk analysis to really try.
Instead of sitting, at home, staring at the lowering sky as client budgets are cut or projects are paused, send a list of three ideas to your brand clients and promise to be the first volunteer. Support, with our now-precious paychecks, those brands that have taken a risk to take a stand. Grab that to-go lunch the independent restaurant is begging you to order. Donate to Feeding America and ensure people who can’t afford to hoard have healthy food.
If LVMH can trade Givenchy for Purell, I’m sure we can all come up with something.