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Humanity & Empowerment: The Opportunity for Brands in Uncertain Times

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Melissa Lohrer

As we watch the world as we know it shift and change, it seems like the only thing that’s certain is uncertainty. After brand marketers have thought about what it all means for ourselves, our families, and our communities, a natural next question arises: what does this mean for my brand?

Now is the time to prioritize purpose over profits. The brands who will be held in the highest regard are the ones who foster value-based connections and take meaningful action that empowers others. So what steps can brands take to come out stronger on the other side?

Be human first.

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This is uncharted territory for all of us. Consumers are focused intently on navigating their daily lives and the changing landscape, leaving little energy behind for traditional purchasing decisions. Now more than ever, people don’t want to be sold to, but rather empathized with.

It’s time for brands to redefine business as usual and focus their attention on creating human connections. Even before this, consumers expected brands to be a uniting force: nearly two-thirds expect brands to reach out and connect with them.

We often think about our roles as brands in terms of what our audiences want. Right now, it seems that everyone wants the same thing: a sense of normalcy wherever possible, and the feeling that they’re being supported. Focus on finding genuine ways to fulfill these needs—as a brand, yes, but also as a collective of fellow humans.

Starbucks struck the right balance by responding with donations to the communities most impacted, from China to New York City. By helping to provide the most dire essentials—protective gear, shelter, medical training and support—they addressed real human needs first. Then, the added gesture of providing free coffee to front-line responders brings a small joy to those doing the hardest work to help us through—they know that even in this time of crisis, they can rely on their daily cup of cold brew.

Be authentic, but be flexible.

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Staying true to your brand’s values is good practice at all times, but now, it’s especially important. Your values are a key facet of your brand’s overall character. And ultimately, they’re what you can look to for guidance on how to respond to the current climate with integrity and authenticity. (And—equally as important—when to stay quiet.)

The same advice goes for your operations, too. We’re all learning, day by day, how to get things done from a distance. Our missions should remain the same, but we must adapt as we go to produce work that meets the same standards with flexible procedures.

Across the spectrum, brands are coming up with innovative ways to continually offer meet expectations and strengthen connections in a quarantined world. Nike, for example, is bringing athletes together around the globe with its #PlayInside campaign, which delivers inspiration, encouragement, and workouts right to digital devices.

Be empowering.

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Photograph: BrewDog

The bad news can seem insurmountable at times. And in many ways, it must be taken very seriously. But while being informed is important, becoming paralyzed by the news cycle doesn’t serve anyone.

Empowerment is equal parts optimism and action—and it wins out over fear. Consumers are looking to brands to offer the most empowering solutions possible to the situation at hand. And brands are taking note: from BrewDog’s free punk hand sanitizer to Kraft Heinz’s celebrating employees with its #WeGotYouAmerica initiative.

In an alarming time, one silver lining is all the inventive ways people are coming together to help each other. Brand managers need to ask themselves: how do we do the same?

 

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