The second wave of coronavirus annihilated India with people scampering for oxygen and hospital beds. A catastrophic event unfolded before our eyes as we witnessed a complete collapse of the medical infrastructure, highlighting inefficiencies in the system of governance. It was indeed a living nightmare for most. For organizations, seamless reputation management and showing compassion becomes extremely critical during such unprecedented times.
Just when we thought the year 2020 was a thing of the past and when life seemed to be adjusting to the pandemic-induced new normal, the second wave knocked on our doors and proved to be even more fatal than last year, bringing the country down to its knees. It exposed massive chinks in the Indian government’s armor and underscored the importance of robust health infrastructure. The scenes in the country were heart-wrenching with people running from one place to another for getting oxygen to save their family members.
I have been working as a brand custodian for nearly five years now and it has been a steep learning curve for me. I have encountered many complex situations that called for swift and stringent action on my part to keep the integrity of the firms intact. But this once-in-a-century crisis presented a formidable challenge to me and my team.
So, how should a brand respond to a crisis like this? Should it continue to march ahead and promote its products to keep the bottom-line figures northwards or should it pause its marketing efforts and product launches? More so, how should it keep its employees motivated when the world outside is crumbling and scenes are so overwhelming.
The answer to that is purpose-driven marketing. A company must reboot its marketing strategy and put all promotional activities on the back burner (at least till the pandemic subsides) and connect with its customers at a deeper, emotional level. It must act responsibly, be more thoughtful, and display empathy to win the trust of customers and in the process, build credibility.
Contemporary consumers are highly informed and believe it’s not just about a company’s products and services, but also about how ethical, transparent, and socially responsible it is. It all adds up to a great customer experience.
Some of the ways in which a brand can act with purpose are:
Coronavirus has overwhelmed national governments and its agencies, making collaboration between civil society, business enterprises and the governing authorities more important than ever to assist the government in its fight against the pandemic. Luxury retail firms started manufacturing hand sanitizers, automotive firms helped in the creation of PPE kits, and very recently we saw the steel industry going all out to provide medical oxygen to hospitals across the nation.
Brands must be very careful in their messaging. At a critical time like this, they should focus on creating content that is relevant to customers such as tackling coronavirus or offer logistical assistance in supplying essential commodities direct to their homes. Brand communication must be more thoughtful, empathetic, and less sales-driven so that it strikes the right chord.
The Human Touch
Life changed dramatically in an instant when coronavirus hit us, and we had to work from home with the country in lockdown. That also meant we were spending more time online now than before the pandemic. Brands, in depressing moments like this, must not bombard people with their ‘latest offering’ rather they should act humanely and publish content that resonates with them emotionally and helps them use their time productively at home. It could be inviting medical experts to speak online on relevant topics such as mental health, wellbeing, fitness, employee care, increasing immunity, or answering COVID-19 related questions.
Supporting Partners and Customers
In these times, brands need to be a little lenient to the suppliers, partners, and clients when it comes to payments. Give them more time or waive off a certain sum if feasible. It will show the humane side of the brand. I firmly believe brands with a purpose will certainly have an edge over others in the post-pandemic period.
Managing the Chaos “Internally” — Technology to the Rescue
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the employees to work from home, making the physical office almost redundant. Therefore, effective use of internal communications has become extremely vital to keep the employees abreast of the latest developments in the company. The pandemic has accelerated the thrust towards digital and technological advancements globally, making it easier for individuals, businesses, and governments to continue operations unabated.
Coronavirus has also reinforced the significance of the organization-wide intranet. It is a great way of sharing crucial information with employees. Every important piece of information is available at the click of a button. The second wave in India took away many lives and had a devastating impact on the employees' social and mental well-being. To tackle these matters with utmost urgency, many firms created a COVID-19 dedicated task force. Moreover, the intranet emerged as a great medium to share important resources and updates with employees apart from weekly emailers, news bulletins, mobile wellness apps, etc.
Employees are the heart and soul of an organization. Therefore, in a crisis like this, leaders need to prioritize employee health and give them the time and space they need to recover and keep themselves mentally fit. Leaders should also constantly hold virtual team/one-on-one meetings, town halls and coffee on cloud among other things to encourage group cohesiveness and address the concerns of employees. They should make sure employees' needs are being fulfilled and create a congenial atmosphere to work in. Also, employees must make sure to check on each other’s health.