How to build a resilient brand in a post-COVID world

by May 11, 2020

Shelton Stat of the Week

Treating employees well consistently scores in the top 3 most important things a company can do to impact consumers’ purchase decisions. If that was true before this pandemic, imagine how impactful it will be going forward.

Here at Shelton, we’ve been tracking consumer attitudes and beliefs as this crisis unfolds, and as you can imagine, we’re seeing some unprecedented themes emerge. We explore those themes in our latest free downloadable report, “Seeing into the Future: Leveraging Fringe consumer insights to build a sustainable brand in a post-COVID world.”

Why we look at the fringe

One of the best ways to see into the future is to understand what’s happening right now out on the fringe. The “fringe” is a small subset of individuals who live on the fringes of society in terms of their beliefs and behaviors. Many things that are mainstream now were once new and fringe ideas, and in an intense time like the current pandemic, fringe ideas move even more quickly into the mainstream. In a way, we’re all fringe consumers right now.

Understanding what is on the fringe helps companies better prepare for looming cultural shifts by turning those potential threats into business opportunities. So what ideas have we seen out there that are starting to creep into mainstream thinking?

The system is broken

Consumers are losing faith in so many of the institutions and systems they previously relied on (government agencies, political leaders, economic systems, food distribution, etc.). Think about the many ways our faith in the system has been shaken: We’ve seen that our healthcare system can’t take care of us in situations like this, despite the dedication of so many healthcare workers putting themselves at risk. The stimulus package was viewed as a half-measure that doesn’t do enough for those who are really struggling. Our food and logistics systems have been called into question; empty store shelves are the result of a just-in-time delivery network that prioritizes efficiency and profit over providing for the people who need critical items. And at the heart of it all, the chasm between haves and have-nots has been brought starkly to light.

Companies can fill the vacuum

A big shift we’re seeing is that fringe consumers are viewing companies almost like nation-states. In a world they perceive as lacking effective government leadership and protection, these consumers’ employers and other companies they do business with become the de facto government. Employees are consequently seen as corporate citizens, which elevates corporate responsibility to include taking care of both their people and the world in which the companies operate.

As the role companies play in society continues to evolve, the question of what “resiliency” will look like in the future becomes a key discussion. Those that can show they are both prepared to weather –  and actively tackle – wide-scale issues like COVID-19 and climate change, while also taking care of their people, will be enshrined as one of the ‘good guys’ hereafter. And if consumer opinion isn’t enough, know that Wall Street also wants you to be involved. Brands actively taking care of their workers, and brands included in ESG funds, are weathering the pandemic much better than their conventional counterparts. For more information on this trend, check these articles in JUST Capital, Barrons, and Grist.

How to be most impactful

So what puts a company on the side of the white hats, in consumers’ minds? Think about it like a pyramid, with the most basic actions at the bottom, and the most impactful ones at the top:

  • Table stakes for companies right now: taking care of their employees.
  • Next, making services free to help individuals cope with quarantine life. Examples: Les Mills releasing free on demand content to exercise at home, and Audible offering free books to children and teens.
  • Moving up the pyramid: Foregoing profits in order to help employees and others in the industry. Examples: Guinness pledging 1 million pounds to support bar staff, Makers Mark diverting marketing budget to fund Edwards Lee’s Restaurant Workers Relief Fund.
  • And the most impactful thing companies can do right now: Actively using resources (physical and financial) to aid in the fight against COVID-19, going beyond minimizing losses. Examples: Dr. Scholl’s donating insoles to healthcare workers, Amazon delivering home test kits in the UK, and Facebook controlling the spread of misinformation about the virus.

Getting past the crisis with brand resiliency: some watch-outs  

Know how to pick the causes you get involved in (now AND later). Normally, we know people want companies to get involved in issues that relate to their core business. Shelton Group’s recent Brands and Stands study found that 64% of consumers believe companies should provide ongoing support for issues that align with the types of products or services they offer. While that concept certainly works right now (like liquor companies helping the restaurant industry), these are not normal times. Right now, anything related to the current crisis feels relevant (like Louis Vuitton making hand sanitizer). Don’t shy away from ways to help, even if those ways wouldn’t usually feel connected to your business.

Understand the role of profit. There’s typically an understanding that we live in a capitalist society and companies have to make a profit. Consumers generally acknowledge this and don’t have a problem with companies pursuing both goals: Do some good, make some money. But in a time like this, the capitalism argument rings hollow. As we’ve seen, that’s all part of a broken system in which consumers no longer have faith. Companies are being asked to rise to a higher purpose. Remember, many businesses are shut down altogether, and MANY Americans have no way to earn an income. So you’re expected to take your profits and your financial cushion and spend some of it to help people, and it’s in your best interest to do so. The health of your business will be forever tied to the health of the communities you do business in.

Resiliency for the future

To an extent, all this is providing a clear path forward for companies in a way they wouldn’t normally experience. No doubt, complexity will creep back in as society moves forward from this time, but the current shifts in attitudes, beliefs and expectations that were once fringe have moved to the mainstream; they will create a lasting impact.

  • The system is broken.
  • Companies can fill the void.
  • Resiliency comes from taking meaningful action now.

If you’re curious about this idea of brand resiliency or want to know what else we’ve seen out on the fringe, check out our latest free downloadable report, “Seeing into the Future: Leveraging Fringe consumer insights to build a sustainable brand in a post-COVID world”. In it, we talk in detail about what we’ve seen and how brands should navigate large scale issues like COVID-19 (or climate change) in order to come out strong on the other side.

News of the Week

The Nonprofits and Companies Helping to Fight the Pandemic – Wired

While this (pandemic) puts unique and unprecedented pressure on companies, it’s also a huge opportunity. To do good. To BE good. And to create a lasting legacy that consumers will remember as we evolve into a new normal.” When this is over, we will remember the companies that made our lives easier and safer with added services, precautions, (and ACTION) during this time. So will other consumers. So will investors. Check out this WIRED article for a list of companies whose actions are standing out and to get ideas for how your company can step up if you’re still feeling out where you fit during this crisis. Read the article.

Creative Ways Companies Are Giving Back During The COVID-19 Crisis – Forbes

The ways we learn, access healthcare, shop, eat, socialize, and the ways we work (among many, many other things) have changed dramatically as a result of this pandemic. Our priorities have shifted, interests have changed, and the desire to connect, locally and globally, has intensified. Companies are trading in their ‘business-as-usual’ tactics for creative, community-focused ones to stay connected and stay relevant. How are companies pivoting? How are they keeping consumers inspired and engaged? How are they giving back? Check out this Forbes list to see the creative ways companies are working to both keep and court consumers. Read the article. 

Gen Z is Surprising Us Again

Our new report reveals a twist in the road to EV adoption

In our latest Energy Pulse™ study, 13% of Americans reported that they’re interested in buying an electric vehicle – up from 8% in 2018. But even as interest rises, charging stations proliferate and battery capacity grows, the barriers to buying EVs persist.

One generation, though, isn’t thinking so much about the barriers. Gen Z is already thinking about what comes after EVs as we know them today.

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About the Author

Virginia Vowell

Virginia Vowell

Virginia designs, manages and analyzes primary and secondary research. Combining extensive research experience, sensitivity to client objectives and a passion for sustainability, she teases out the story of what the research means and provides actionable recommendations to clients. Before bringing her expertise to Shelton Group, she spent 12 years in a research agency environment. She also brings theater expertise – she recently starred in a regional theater production of Mame.

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