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The moment of truth is here. Authenticity is the way forward

4/14/2020
— Kass Sells, Global COO/President of International 

As I spend more of my days embracing our new normal by jumping on Teams to meet with colleagues and clients, streaming movies and playing games with my family, working out in the basement, and taking time to slow down while walking our dog, Rory, I’ve also had more time to engage with the online world. And doing so got me thinking — everything has changed quickly and forever.

For the first time many of us are learning that our daily routines and responsibilities can be disrupted almost overnight. We have new reality-defining phrases such as “social distancing” and “flattening the curve,” and for many of us, the lives we knew have been put on hold. Unsurprisingly, the desire for calm is felt by many of us.

The current pandemic is a global call to action and demonstrates now more than ever what it means to say “it takes a village.” We’re finding support from grassroots efforts, such as teenagers using at-home 3D printers to make surgical masks and volunteers helping their local hospitals, but also, importantly, from our favorite brands. Eighty-three percent of consumers believe brands are capable of providing us with stability in periods of uncertainty, according to our WE Communications Brands in Motion research. And with brands now stepping up, living their purpose and behaving authentically, they’re helping alleviate fear and give us hope for a better, albeit different, future. This isn’t about purpose-washing, or using the current crisis to make a quick buck: It’s about brands leading with the purpose they already have and demonstrating their ability to be of service while being nimble in a world that’s changing by the hour.

 

Brands may not have all the answers, but they play a key role in being part of the solutions

Strong, strategic communication and the implementation of business continuity plans (BCPs) are where we start during a global pandemic. Communicating authentically, doing so in the best way your brand knows how and showing you care are first steps in the right direction. But there’s more work to do. The great news is that many brands are stepping up and doing more.

Fashion conglomerate LVMH didn’t have to transform its factory from making perfume to hand sanitizer, but it realized it could help hospitals when they needed it most. And health brand Mucinex is a great example of a company taking responsibility. Its recent campaign Spread Fact Not Fear aims to deter people from fake news. Mucinex shows that it’s not only fighting COVID-19 through the purpose of its product but also through the power of its strategic communications. Chinese tech company ByteDance has stepped up its offering during its consumers’ time of need by creating a platform where new, cinema-ready, feature-length films are released and available as everyone self-isolates at home.

Now is the time when consistency, clarity and simplicity are needed, and brands showing how they want to make everyone’s lives a little easier is a huge communication win. Seventy-five percent of the business professionals surveyed in our WE Purpose in China study believe that purpose can drive corporate and social reputation. It’s the role of communications agencies to keep pace with the crisis, reviewing corporate and internal communications, providing strong counsel to clients, and ensuring that they don’t make a wrong step down what’s clearly a precarious path. Perhaps there has never been a time when our jobs as communications experts was more important. And with our leadership we can ensure that the hard-won trust of our employees, clients and customers isn’t lost.

 

Make your values your North Star

Public health bodies and the incredible first responders and frontline workers in our health services are working hard to save lives. As communicators, we owe it to them to live our values and to ensure the work we create is delivered as clearly and decisively as possible, supporting their efforts.

When it comes to communicating through the crisis and applying your BCP, these are the important steps to consider:

  • Be purposeful. Begin with your company’s unique purpose in the world. As we say, start at the start. Seventy percent of business professionals believe purpose can drive customer loyalty, so let it benefit every aspect of your business — from strategy to reputation. Identify that purpose and lead with it consistently in all communications.
  • Be prepared to act. Educate and assist your employees and ensure all health measures are being executed. Having a clear setup in place to ensure you manage the risks is what will propel you forward consistently during times of uncertainty. A good BCP also has to look beyond initial steps and consider the impact of its own implementation.
  • Check twice, communicate once. The world has been inundated with misinformation — don’t add to it. Instead, ensure your communication is truthful, swift, diligent, consistent and compassionate. Let your brand’s voice guide you.
  • Evaluate your plan constantly. Meet with your leadership team often and stay on top of the situation — embrace the grind. Connect with clients and colleagues regularly so they know the priorities. A well-executed and timely Teams or iPhone video beats a late, overdone production every time. Keep it real.
  • Be human to the core. Treat your consumers like human beings, act with empathy, and build a deeper connection by showing up in local communities and the world at large.
  • Finally, don’t think your work is ever done. When we get to the other side of this crisis — and we will — the world and our businesses will exist in an entirely different landscape. Be ready to accept that the way you operate will change. Going back to the foundational purpose of your brand and reassessing how you engage with your people, consumers and the market could birth something new.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that we’re all learning through this tough time. Former TV personality Mr. Rogers put it best: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” When we find ourselves alarmed or anxious we can look for the helpers, and as communicators we are now in a position of leadership and responsibility. So, it’s up to each of us to be there to help others — our co-workers, clients, customers, friends and family. That’s how we grow in the face of adversity, that’s how we change for the better, and that’s how we all can make a positive impact in the world.

 

Read more from Kass Sells, WE's Global Chief Operating Officer and President of International, here.

 

Image courtesy Financial Times and LVMH.