crisis management

In this crisis, very few organisations will be unaffected. What is now important is how brands react and how they handle this uncertain and unprecedented situation.

How can organisations lean on their brand in order to get through this crisis? And which brands are already demonstrating this?

It is easy to get distracted, panic and make drastic non-strategic decisions in times of crisis. But for those who hone their brand strategy and focus on communicating the appropriately toned message at the right time will be better placed to see this through.

With the long term effects of the COVID-19 outbreak still to be realised, and the short term interruptions felt by the hour, it is vital that organisations manage their brands and messaging very carefully so as to ensure the continued health of their business.

“What leaders need during a crisis is not a predefined response plan but behaviours and mindsets that will prevent them from overreacting and help them to look ahead.”

In the recently released Edelman Trust Barometer for 2020, there was clear evidence that consumers are looking to organisations and their leaders to take action. This report was conducted before the current COVID-19 crisis took hold, with 78% of respondents acknowledging the role CEOs play in taking the lead and making decisions when it comes to environmental decisions.

Many brands are already demonstrating some amazing examples of brand values, purpose, customer care and empathy in action.

Some notable examples include:

  • Zoom is supporting businesses through the pandemic by promoting tools that ease and facilitate home working, virtual meetings and video conferencing, it is also allowing students to use its premium functions for free.

  • Google has also made its video conferencing service, Hangouts Meet, available for all G-suite customers until July 1, 2020. Hangouts Meet allows for up to 250 participants and live-streaming to up to 100,000 viewers per domain. You can also record and save meetings.

  • Louis Vuitton has announced it will be converting three of its perfume manufacturing facilities in order to produce hand sanitiser, which will be given, at no charge, to French authorities and the largest hospital system in Europe.

  • Coca-Cola has diverted some of its advertising spend towards a health message on the importance of social distancing by way of a creative execution on their billboard in Times Square.

  • IGA, Coles and Woolworths have managed the distribution of scarce goods by introducing the rationing of toilet paper and some food items, as well as the initiative of an exclusive shopping hour for the elderly and disadvantaged.

  • Time Out temporarily rebrands as Time In. Their editorial direction will pivot from dining out, to entertainment avenues closer to home such as ‘best Netflix new releases’, restaurants offering home delivery and other content to keep people feeling positive about being confined to their homes. 

  • Online social platform Nextdoor is helping people connect with their neighbours to assist with buying groceries for those in isolation, share toilet paper and walk people’s dogs when they can’t leave the house.

  •  Many businesses are taking the opportunity to promote their products and services that can be enjoyed from home. Some have found innovative ways in offering these services, such as virtual museum tours, 14-day online fitness programs and restaurants adjusting to include home delivery (if they did not before).


Brand as a defence strategy

In any crisis, brand can be the backbone of your defence strategy. It is the one thing your competitors cannot copy, and it is the one thing that will differentiate you in the eyes of consumers. We don’t know what the road ahead looks like in this unprecedented time, but we do know that a strong brand will recover quicker than a weak one, so maintaining your brand equity in the minds of customers, stakeholders and employees is critical.

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:

  • Banks: Having finished off last decade with quite a negative reputation generated from the Banking Royal Commission, the Australian financial services sector have started on the right foot by being quick to roll out a natural disaster program for customers in communities impacted by the bushfire and drought emergencies.

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.

  • Coles: have given $3 million in gift cards to over 6000 rural fire brigades across Australia.
  • Woolworths Group: almost $1.3 million raised for the Salvation Army in the months to Christmas, since surpassing $3 million including donations from its own customers.
  • Milky Lane and McDonalds: offering free burgers and meals to all fire-fighters.
  • Arnotts, Freddo, Mars Australia and Coca Cola: have all made generous pledges whilst also providing and distributing, through organisations such as Foodbank Australia, their products to all those affected by the fires. Coca-Cola Australia is honouring Australia’s firefighters with the creation of a limited-edition Share a Coke with the Firies.
  • Sports: both Tennis Australia and Cricket Australia have used their upcoming and current events to donate and raise money for the, with many players pledging to donate money according to the number of aces or wickets they receive during their respective events.
  • The Arts: from comedians and knitters, sewers and crafters, to jewellery makers, designers, ceramic artists to fundraising gigs across the country – the art scene have using their skills to raise and donate money where possible. The line-up for bushfire fundraiser concert is a smorgasbord of Australian talent as well as some huge international guests.
  • Architects: a new volunteer organisation called Architects Assist, comprised of over 130 architecture studios, has formed to help bushfire victims rebuild, offering pro-bono design and planning assistance to people whose houses, businesses and community centres have burned down.

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:

  • Authenticity

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.  

  • Timing

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.

  • Empathy

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.