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.
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.