Purpose-Driven Brands Need to Change Their Approach Post-Covid

Companies need to question what their real intent is

Covid-19 has challenged brands to reevaluate their purpose on a deeper, more philosophical level. Getty Images

For all the times marketers have used this battle-tested brief, surely none could have imagined a world like the one we’re in now. Plans and budgets have been slashed. Consumer needs have entirely shifted. Survival is what matters, above all else. That may come off as a bit dark, but the world as we know it has changed forever. Not only for consumers, but especially for the brands that serve them.

Before the pandemic, the expectation of value and trust was fairly one-sided, with the onus put squarely on the consumer. As the virus made its way across the world, brands had to put plans on hold, business stopped and traffic to websites slowed to a trickle. Within what seemed like minutes, the brands we believed were going to support us through anything started to shift their messages, and brands we felt were too big to care showed us why we were always loyal to them.

With that pivot came an immense responsibility and, more importantly, it has ushered in a new era of brand marketing. This time will be less focused on what the consumers can give us but what we as brands can provide to our consumers.

Purpose vs. purpose-driven

Covid-19 has created a philosophical dilemma: If your brand isn’t your products and your products are not your purpose, then what are you?

If anything positive comes out of the pandemic, it’s that the veil of purpose has been lifted. Brands that talked about putting the consumer first or waxed poetic about their treatment of employees pre-Covid-19 are suddenly fighting for survival. Their previously benevolent sheen gave way to the blurry face of profits and survival. Admittedly, you can’t blame these brands for shifting their messaging to discounts and sales; however, it does expose the lack of purpose and identity these brands have failed to authentically cultivate or build.

You can’t create purpose out of shilling cheaper direct-to-consumer goods. Good products are a cost of entry. Purpose is born out of servicing a need for a group of consumers: parents, kids, athletes, students, etc. Once you’ve found that purpose, the brand is the vehicle for it through the creation of experiences that provide value and instill trust. Your brand is not your products and your marketing does not create your purpose. With the DTC boom, too many companies have fallen into this trap.

And so, Covid-19 has created a philosophical dilemma: If your brand isn’t your products and your products are not your purpose, then what are you? The brands that have an answer to this are the ones that will be around long after the pandemic.

Company lifetime value

This could be as easy as a shift in focus.

For years, brands have focused heavily on defining customer lifetime value or how much value a brand extracts from the consumer throughout their lifetime. But if we’re agreeing that Covid-19 has leveled the playing field, then it’s no longer about what you can get out of the customer. Rather, the focus should be on what can you as the brand can do for the customer.

It’s this shift that will force brands to begin thinking about their own company lifetime value, or the value a brand brings to the customer. In an era of access and an abundance of choice, Covid-19 has acted as a great filter. Consumers don’t need to go far to see which brands have always been about community-building and value creation. Put another way, it’s the brands that have focused on building strong, mutually beneficial relationships and not one-sided value extractions.

Brands should lean in hard to this approach with their customers. Once the pandemic ends, consumers will look to brands that align with their needs more than ever. They’ll choose the brands that made them feel seen in this time of crisis, not the ones that asked them to buy.

But will we remember?

The biggest question we have to understand as marketers and as an industry is if we will remember. Will we look back after this is all done and remember which brands faltered on delivering their purpose and which brands delivered it in full during our time in need?

When the “stay at home, stay together” commercials finally stop and the world starts to spin again, we hope we recall the brands that did good during this time: brands that understand their role in good and bad times, brands that took action, brands that understood the value between customer lifetime value versus company lifetime value.


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@toda Eric Toda is a marketing executive known for building challenger brands. He is currently the global head of social at Facebook and has built brands at Gap Inc, Airbnb Snapchat and Nike.
@gabealonso Gabe Alonso is leading CRM strategy at Activision and obsessively watching Twitch in hopes it will make him a better gamer.