The human toll of COVID-19 has been and continues to be, devastating. Hundreds of thousands have become ill and millions have lost their jobs. When the health impact begins to recede, and it eventually will through the hard work and dedication of health care workers across the nation and the world, we’ll have to deal with restarting an economy that has essentially been frozen for months. Many businesses, both small and large, will inevitably fail to emerge from this prolonged deep freeze. While there are purely financial reasons—cash on hand and access to capita—why some will emerge while others remain on ice, there is a less obvious key.
“The brands that are going to win are going to be the ones that have deep connections” with consumers, Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh told CNBC in an interview on Tuesday afternoon.
We couldn’t agree more.
Without these relationships built through shared values and community, brands only have one card to play—promos and product lines. We get it, sales are important to keep your business alive, but that’s just a short-term strategy, focusing only on the here and now. And with many of your competitors holding the same hand, such a play is likely to become a race to the bottom, yielding few winners.
Meanwhile, brands that pursued a longer-term strategy of building community and creating that “deep connection” with their consumers and employees alike have an advantage. While the economy is on a virtual hold, they have permission to do more with and stay closer to their base in meaningful ways. They can communicate about their internal business struggles in a way that is desired and even expected by their modern, engaged consumer-like LUSH, a beloved brand among Gen Z for its purpose-driven ethos, who’s providing an ongoing update on their layoffs, budget reductions, and store closures in an extraordinarily honest, detailed, and transparent way. LUSH is doing this because they know its consumers care; they’re all part of what LUSH describes as its “family.” And such brands can tap into consumer needs during this crisis in a way that feels relevant and real—like men’s grooming brand Harry’s, who has over the last few years built a social impact platform around men’s mental health, and are now encouraging their consumers via email, website, and social to seek help through the Crisis Text Line (CTL) if the stress of the COVID-19 crisis is too much. Harry’s also has trained crisis counselors on staff through their existing employee volunteer efforts—and more being trained to assist CTL as they work at home during the COVID-19 work disruption.
And once the immediate crisis is over, those brands will likely be the first consumers choose to do business with; and the places where laid-off employees will want to come back to.
One core way to build these communities is to leverage purpose and have a clearly defined social impact platform that rallies your employees and consumers around shared values. A social impact platform moves your brand beyond price and product and goes to the heart of the brand and connects with consumers about things that really matter to them.
So, when retailers are back to business and consumers are back to buying, of course, CMOs will need to focus on the short-term need to just drive sales. But they should also be focused on the long-term and downturn strategy of building community. And identifying your brand’s purpose and building out your social impact platform is an ideal way to begin forming those connections.