With more than $200 million dollars raised to aid the Australian bushfire disaster by everyone from celebrities and organisations to local fundraisers, it is truly incredible how people, in times of crisis, come together to support and help one another.
Generous donations aside, we have also seen a number of brands respond to the disaster by using their core products and service offering to help those affected by the ongoing fires – brands acting through their core brand purpose.
As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, there is an increasing request, need, drive and sometimes even demand for companies to take action and have a voice around important current affairs, may they be social or political, or in this case, environmental. It is predicted that this will continue to be increasingly the case throughout the 2020’s.
A multitude of brands are responding to the current crisis:
The Australian Bankers Association announced a suite of fee-and-loan-repayment changes to help customers get through the crisis. Member banks include the big four banks and a host of other lenders, including Macquarie, AMP, Rabobank, Suncorp, ING, Bank of Queensland and ME Bank.
Some, such as NAB, have gone further and set up a $4 million fund to help customers and staff displaced by the bushfires. NAB customers who have lost homes, including affected business owners and farmers, this bushfire season can access $2000 grants, to help cover costs such as temporary accommodation, food and clothing. Westpac and other banks have provided similar offerings.
Telstra has also offered a number of other relief packages to aid those in need, including: Satellite Cells on Wheels to boost coverage where is needed, assistance packages, free payphones in affected areas, pre-paid handsets, recharge vouchers, access to broadband in evacuation centres, improvements to Triple Zero (000) and assistance with family and friends of those affected, who currently find themselves outside of the country and are wanting to check up on their loved ones.
These great acts of kindness will help bring some relief to those who have been affected by the fires. However, it is important for brands to ensure the way they respond in times of crisis, or when taking any stance, is not seen as an opportunistic move to increase sales in the long run. In order to be successful in doing so, brands must ensure the following:
Consumers can see right through brands that don’t respond authentically or with integrity, which in turn can convert to distrust towards the brand. What could be perceived as a kind gesture or widely applauded stance to a social crisis, if perceived as hollow or opportunistic, can turn ugly very fast.
For instance, P&G’s brand, Gillette, received a lot of backlash when they released their 2019 campaign “The best Men Can Be’ against toxic masculinity. Consumers saw it as an attempt to capitalise on the #MeToo movement, when this brand had little history in having this stance in the past. Some could say that the brand was known for disfavouring women at times, by adding premium prices to their women lines. The decorrelation between their brand purpose and values with the pro-social message lead to the campaign’s overall fail.
Acting fast, especially in times of crisis, is crucial and in some way is also linked to authenticity. Brands need to lead when it comes to taking a social stance and not appear to be jumping onto a bandwagon. Gillette’s campaign came the #MeToo movement had gathered pace. Being too late can be perceived as being inauthentic, and therefore can cause a negative image in consumer’s minds.
In an age in which understanding your customers and building relationships with them has become key to standing out in crowded marketplaces, empathy takes on a new level of priority. Empathy allows brands to build an emotional connection with their audience, to engage the people who use their products in real conversations and to inspire connection. A lack of empathy can in turn lead to…you guessed it, inauthenticity and distrust.
Empathy and authenticity must also be perceived by not only the brand and its communications strategy, but also from its people, otherwise a disconnect between both of these can end disastrously as well.
Consumers are looking more and more at brands to take action. The recent climate change protests and the ongoing fires, have been good examples of how companies across Australia have done so, creating deeper and stronger connections with their consumers than what advertising and campaigns have ever done in the past.
For brands wanting to respond to the bushfire crisis, empathy is delivered not just in donations of money or goods (however gratefully received), but in how the products and services they deliver can contribute to the recovery effort. The question brands need to ask is “what can we do to improve the conditions of those caught in the fires? If they need one things from us, what is that one thing?”
Whether that one thing is free burgers, scoring aces, mortgage repayment suspensions…brands are able to contribute authentically from within their own products and services to support the recovery effort.
If brands focus on doing what they do best, in an authentic, trustworthy way – it is more likely to be perceived as part of their core values rather than an opportunity for promotion. It has been truly heart-warming and inspiring to see so many brands put their hand up and offer help in their own unique ways.