3 Ways Brands Can Show Up in These Unprecedented Times

Marketers need to reimagine their purpose and find ways to help where possible

Photo of big billboard ads with one on top that says, 'Tough Times Don't Last Tough People Do'
Actions speak louder than words and motivations matter. Getty Images

Human generosity often shines when disaster strikes. However, this pandemic risks turning us inward as we face social distancing and uncertainty. While this crisis is unlike any other in living memory, past experience tells us that, by acting generously, brands are granted an invitation to speak up and take action but must do so without expecting anything in return.

As we navigate Covid-19, brands can—and should—use ingenuity and creativity to identify ways to meaningfully support people and communities with the things that they do better than anyone else, asking how they can genuinely be of service. Brands motivated by a deeper purpose may be one step ahead in addressing this crisis.

Service through information and expertise

Brands can be of service in times of crisis by sharing their know-how and providing fact-based information built on experience, insights and trust. For example, a CPG brand can provide tips to teach kids how to properly wash their hands. Insurance brands are well equipped to create safety PSAs around more complicated issues like natural disaster prevention and mitigation. In the case of publishers, lifting paywalls to make sure that people have access to the latest updates and announcements in addition to investing in service journalism and myth-busting are a few ways they can show up. And in times of health emergencies, people turn to academic, pharma and healthcare brands for deeper understanding of a threat.

Leaders must look at exactly what it is a brand offers and how those means can be reimagined to provide relief.

Brands dedicated to connectivity can provide outlets and opportunities for people to be of service and collaborate. For instance, as schools close down, can companies focused on relevant technology utilize their teams to create improved and free remote education opportunities for schools? Can employers provide appropriate individuals with the flexibility to take time out of their work from home day to virtually tutor children and do what’s right for their communities?

Service through resources 

Making tools and knowledge resources accessible sometimes needs financial support. Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck or have a very small emergency fund. While facing a significant disruption, many hourly workers lose entire paychecks and resources for childcare and food, which many schools typically provide. Where appropriate, brands can provide financial support or offer breaks for those most financially impacted.

As employers, brands should increase wages and extend health benefits. From financial institutions and automakers like Ford hitting pause on fines and fees to QSR establishments like Sweetgreen feeding frontline workers to food delivery services offering free delivery to support suffering hospitality businesses, brands can provide encouragement and support to build lasting value and consumer trust.

Service through business operations

Brands with the infrastructure and means to extend operations to communities in need can offer up remarkable solutions. That can mean ramping up production of necessary goods and technology or thinking differently about existing assets. LVMH Moët Hennessy recently announced that it is converting some of its makeup and perfume factories into hand sanitizer factories, which will be provided to the French government for free for distribution. The Smugglers’ Notch Distillery took advantage of its business resources by creating their own line of hand sanitizer that’ll be sold on campus and a portion of the proceeds will be contributed to Vermont state mitigation efforts.

Major brands have shown up time and time again in the face of disaster. Dominos, Tide and many others brought their goods directly to the epicenter of the tragedy during Hurricane Katrina by working with the Red Cross. They ensured that, amid the chaos, people were fed and had clean clothes.

Leaders must look at exactly what it is a brand offers and how those means can be reimagined to provide relief. As we face hospital bed shortages, can hospitality brands open doors and convert spaces, for instance? Covid-19 will continue to test our flexibility and resolve as individuals and as a society as we search for a means to halt the pandemic and heal communities.

Brands can show, by example, that the world has heroes to cope with Covid-19’s impact, keeping humanity focused on how they can act generously and collaborate for the greater good. There is a mindset of generosity that must be adopted as we face the pandemic together. It’s crucial that we, as marketers and creatives, find ways to continue to serve and operate in ways that don’t put employees and customers at risk and continue to show commitment to our communities.

So before your brand tries to join the conversation, ask yourself some questions. Every crisis is different, so step one is to take stock. What and who is the priority? Answers will be different for every business, big and small. Adopt a generous mindset and simply ask how your brand can be of service. For some businesses, the best way to be of service is to simply remain operational, but for many, they should ask if they can be of service through sharing expertise, resources or business operations.

Continue to involve your employees and stakeholders. As communication is paramount, solutions may require ingenuity, creativity and an ecosystem. Don’t make decisions with brand communications or business profits as a focus. Actions speak louder than words and motivations matter.

Jane Kendall is the executive director of strategy at T Brand at The New York Times Company.