Business Interrupted. People Prioritised

It’s difficult now to recall what we were thinking in those first few month of 2020 as slowly the trickle of information, news, science and speculation around this strange new flu virus grew into a steady stream, flood and then tsunami of facts, counter-facts, conflicting statistics and devastating news of loss of life and extraordinary contagion.

Slowly countries began to exercise various forms of lockdown to control the movement of people and therefore spread of the virus. A human tragedy that has and continues to affect the lives of thousands of people across the globe. In parallel to the health stories, right from the outset, there was speculation on the devastating economic ramifications of the lockdowns. The balancing wire between lives and livelihoods, which where low wage earners are living hand to mouth, are sometimes indistinguishable. The FMCG industry is one of only a few that have grown during the crisis, along with Pharma and Health. Life goes on and we need our basic needs met. Panic buying precipitated exponential growth of pantry staples and hygiene products and ‘expandable’ categories like baking and snacks have indeed expanded. The inevitable slow-down has followed however, as we re-calibrate. There is after all only so much laundry powder and toilet paper you need.

Retail is a tough business and reacted quickly to gearing up to meet demand and keep the shelves full. Store workers of all descriptions, while naturally anxious, stepped up to protect themselves as best as possible and to take real pride in their newly recognised status of essential workers, serving the nation. Retailers redoubled their online efforts as the crisis forced initially hesitant consumers to become online natives and brands to rethink their omnichannel strategy.

It is people however that have been prioritised and are central to every piece of communication from organisations and brands. From the retailers being concerned about the welfare of their staff and shoppers to banks, insurance companies, brands and big business. People are at the centre. The science and economics have been counter balanced with sweeping concern and appreciation for the people most at risk and worst affected from a health or income point of view.

“Be ready to unlearn everything, re-set thinking and prioritise the values that hold the human heart dear” – Trade Intelligence Covid Comms issue 2

This is likely to be no short-term perspective but rather potentially transformative of societies expectations. Community counts and consumers will remember how brands behaved in times of crisis, and how this made them feel. A brand Point of View is a powerful and compelling proposition that is likely to engender loyalty that will long outlast the virus and may well be the basis for a complete re-think on positioning and what constitutes an impactful communication strategy. Some of the ways we have seen brands prioritise people and adapt their messaging has included:

  • Being generally helpful and informative – outside of pure brand-speak.
  • Educating. Social messaging around how to stay safe, protect yourself and your loved ones.
  • Being nationalistic / patriotic – overtly supporting the government’s actions, not just as compliant citizens but advocates of the proactive intent.
  • Extending or expanding their own positioning to encompass some aspect of the pandemic and its impact (Dove showing the marks of health workers masks, Nike inviting everyone to compete online against the ‘whole world’).
  • Giving back directly – free deliveries, meals, discounts, no charge for online access to concerts and ticket admissions to concerts, free e-learning, online tours and master classes.
  • Inspirational and rallying cries around prioritising and praising health and essential workers, connection, being together although apart and global citizenship.

Consumer, client and employee trust is built at times like this. The pandemic offers a rare and important opportunity to us all. How can you contribute more, communicate better, connect more meaningfully and emerge from the pandemic stronger and more purposeful around prioritising people?

“There has been courage and solidarity. A very different South Africa and world awaits us. The greatest test will be our willingness to embrace change. Let us rise to meet this challenge. Let us stand as one family and one nation to build a new and stronger society. The days before us will be difficult. But we will draw strength from what we have achieved.” – 13/05/2020: President Cyril Ramaphosa