How Covid-19 Has Permanently Raised the Bar for Purpose-Driven Brands

The days of one-off gestures are over

Covid-19 is teaching many companies something that iconic brands have known for generations: It's no longer enough to try to swoop in and make a difference in consumers' lives in response to a crisis. If you're serious about making a positive impact, it has to be central to everything your brand is and does.

Especially in the midst of a global pandemic, consumers crave and even expect to see brands step up to provide solutions and improve their lives. And if a brand claims to be purpose-driven, those expectations are even higher—and that's not going to change any time soon.

Here's how brands can present their purpose to their audience and make it a permanent part of their brand identity.

Find your value. 

Covid-19 has put everything into perspective for consumers. Messaging that's skin deep or highlights superficial utility isn't going to cut it. Forget saving the world with a one-time charitable gesture; brands need to consider the real impact their products and services have on consumers' lives and reflect that in their messaging. 

Take, for example, McDonald's free "Thank You Meals" for first responders and healthcare workers at the frontlines of this pandemic. The fast-food giant didn't borrow a new cause; instead, it focused on why it exists in the first place—to feed people—and channeled that role in its relief efforts.  

Share your purpose. 

If you have a real and authentic way that you are spreading good through the products and services you offer, make sure you're communicating that purpose and impact not only to consumers, but throughout all lines of business and amongst employees. The purpose has to get out of the boardroom; it must be shared in everything and everyone the brand touches.

Unilever, whose purpose is to "make sustainable living commonplace" and be a force for good in the world, has embraced its vision across its many consumer brands. In response to Covid-19, Unilever has donated personal care products from Suave, cleaning and sanitation products from Dove and Seventh Generation, as well as food from Knorr and Litpton, totaling more than $100 million worth of goods. Taking its mission another step forward, Unilever also launched a handwashing campaign in the U.K. raising awareness about healthy hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus.

Show you mean it. 

Consumers can see through superficial values. If your brand is truly behind a cause, you shouldn't have to work too hard to demonstrate that commitment to your consumers. Volvo, for example, has built its brand around innovative safety. Instead of looking for an ad hoc purpose-driven project, Volvo's products and actions embody its values. 

While standard crash testing is performed using a male crash test dummy, Volvo's safety testing has accounted for all genders and body types since the 1970s. Volvo recently partnered with F&B on the E.V.A. Initiative to release that data for anyone to use, ensuring all cars, not just Volvos, are safer for all drivers.

The bottom line.

Covid-19 has permanently impacted consumers' expectations for brands. Going forward, brands will be expected to play a role in advancing social good—particularly those that claim to be purpose-driven. So don't spend your resources on a one-time advertising message that says "We're here with you" or a clever charitable campaign to show how you're helping right now. Instead, focus on making those purpose-driven efforts central to your brand identity going forward.

Guy Hayward
Guy Hayward is a global brand building advisor and former global CEO of Forsman & Bodenfors.

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