How the pandemic has underlined the importance of brand purpose
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown purpose into the spotlight. In the B2C world, consumers have rewarded brands prioritising the health and wellbeing of their staff while continuing to deliver vital products and services. However, consumers have been quick to make an example of companies seen to be acting for profit alone, failing to protect their staff or prioritise key workers.
Anger has been followed by lost loyalty – research from Deloitte Digital carried out in June found that one in five UK consumers has stopped using a brand due to their response to COVID-19, rising to 28% of those aged 16-24.
For B2B brands, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a rush to safety. Businesses have looked to work with organisations they have a strong existing relationship with, that they trust and hold confidence in.
A brand brings with it a set of values that its actions must reflect
Many brands have put purpose at the core of their response to COVID-19. In Deloitte’s case, our purpose is to make an impact that matters – to our clients, people and wider society.
Very early on in the pandemic we considered the best way to support our clients and make a positive impact on their business – both immediately and in the future. With our brand purpose in mind, we aimed to help our clients’ leaders act with resilience.
From a marketing perspective, we worked fast to create captivating content that would help them achieve this. But, most importantly, we encouraged our partners and people to connect with their clients and offer support.
Through all of our communications, instead of scaring, we wanted to be supporting. Instead of telling, enabling. We created a really simple response framework for clients to consider across the three phases of the crisis – respond, recover, thrive.
We developed our approach for clients in specific roles – CEO, CFO, CIO, CHRO and so on – to help them think through the breadth of their responsibility and what they could practically do to respond.
We focused on not only the organisational resilience of the functions they lead, but their resilience as leaders in their own right.
Where should marketing teams turn if their brand purpose is not set in stone?
COVID-19 has emphasised the importance of a strong brand purpose and exposed the cracks in those whose purpose was undefined, or misunderstood.
A purpose should be authentic – it’s not something the marketing department ‘creates’ (although it could be something they ‘uncover’). It has to be true; the reason that an organisation – and importantly, the people in it – switch on every morning.
It’s a CMO’s role to understand where their business has been and to shine a light on its reason for being. For instance at Deloitte, throughout our 175-year history, a big part of our role has been to provide assurance. Trust and integrity are still central to our brand today – as I discussed on our firm’s Green Room podcast.
Despite spanning three centuries, the reason that our people get out of bed every morning is the same now as it was in 1845; they want to make an impact. Understanding this has helped us to ensure our brand remains relevant.
Attracting and retaining people that share our purpose and values is critical.
It was a proud moment when at the start of the pandemic our CEO received messages from people across Deloitte asking what they could do to help our public services at the time.
In response, we pulled together a team tasked with putting our purpose into action in the context of the pandemic - working out how we could best use the range of expertise we have in areas such as business resilience, supply chain risk mitigation, financing and liquidity to step in and help businesses, charities and social enterprises navigate these unprecedented times. As a result, we supported organisations such as The Trussell Trust to supply emergency food parcels while complying with new social distancing requirements and Social Bite to feed Scotland’s homeless despite lockdown affecting many of its services.
Our people felt compelled to make their own impact, in their own way, proactively animating our brand’s purpose. Fundamentally, this underlined for me that a strong brand purpose is not simply a window display; instead it is something that is already embedded into an organisation’s foundations and embodied by its people.
COVID-19 has made brand purpose all the more relevant. People are recommitting to their values and the things that matter most to them: health, family, purpose. They’re aligning those values to brands and employers that are truly delivering on a purpose which lines up with their own.