Staying Connected During COVID-19: Good Corporate Citizenship, Mission and Brand During Crises

Mission and brand are more important than ever during a crisis and the aftermath. 

Much has been written about how unprecedented this crisis is. Brands should already recognize that they have a role to play in responding to our collective needs. Now it’s time for brands to start looking to the future and how they survive and thrive in the new normal.

COVID-19 will dramatically alter the way we work, communicate, and live. For brands, the strategic importance of corporate responsibility is shifting. Audiences in 2020 crave authentic connection. A younger generation of consumers already expected more from the brands they gave their loyalty to before COVID-19, with the rise of consumer activism, user-generated content, and two-way social media conversations with brands. As COVID-19 continues to alter our society and economy, having a clear mission and brand has never been more important. And the expectation for brands to come through for their audiences has never been higher.

Emerging from COVID-19 as a stronger brand will depend on how well your organization aligns with its mission, the authenticity of your corporate citizenship, and the relationship you maintain with your audience. What you do over the coming days, weeks, and months will determine your brand’s future and reputation — for better or worse.

Understanding Mission-Driven Corporate Citizenship

Your mission must be the foundation and driving strategy of your corporate citizenship, informing every decision. There is a difference between having a mission and actually understanding your brand’s mission and how it impacts your actions and initiatives.

New Balance has volunteered to retool its factories to make medical-grade masks, showing how brands can lean on their values to take action for the greater good. Their brand is “born to move,” with products that are all about function. And they already had a reputation for giving back that was central to their brand. So shifting their production capacity to deliver high-quality materials was an authentic, brand-driven response — and it actually helps first responders in a very real and needed way.

Other brands have misstepped by not treating their corporate citizenship as a mission-driven business strategy, but instead as just an ad campaign. For example, BMW used the hashtag #FlattenTheCurve to promote a new car on Twitter. This isn’t the time or topic to promote a product, and socially-isolating consumers aren’t likely to be purchasing a car right now. Your mission isn’t just a statement or marketing one-off, it’s a strategic direction for your organization, and if you’re not approaching internal and external issues with your mission in mind, you’re undermining your organization’s long-term strategy and missing an opportunity to connect with your audiences.

As a creative and strategy agency for mission-driven organizations, Beyond Definition understands how critical a strong mission is for brands and their audience. We exist to further your mission together. That is the focus of every project, from building your brand to a marketing campaign. We are navigating this crisis alongside other mission-driven businesses, associations, and nonprofits. It’s a challenging time for brands. So, here are a few of the leading things we believe your brand should be thinking about as we work through this pandemic together.

3 Rules for Good Corporate Citizenship

It’s about helping, not PR.

It’s never wise to exploit a crisis or continue with business as usual. Especially now, when people are losing their jobs, retirement funds, and even friends and family. In our hometown of Washington, D.C., some local brands are going the extra mile to practice good corporate citizenship: D.C.-based brand Compass Coffee is producing hand sanitizer in addition to coffee, as have local distilleries. In a time where many consumers feel nervous about supply shortages, this is a brilliant way to build organic relationships within our local community.

Taking action doesn’t have to be linked with financial commitments, or even your existing services. Use your expertise and knowledge to provide resources for common questions your consumers might have. Set up a secure line of communication to keep engaging with your audience. Think of ways you can add value that audiences don’t get elsewhere. And, unless your organization is right on the front lines, look for opportunities to contribute to organizations that are already taking action or leading the way, so you don’t duplicate efforts or waste resources.

Stay true to who you are.

Lackluster sales, decreased web traffic, and the elimination of person-to-person interactions has made some brands desperate to forget their mission when a crisis hits. However, organizations need to remember who they are and refrain from the temptation to generate positive PR by going too far out of their comfort zone. While we mentioned a few companies that have successfully pivoted their strategy during COVID-19, other brands have stumbled.

Most notably, McDonald’s and Volkswagen each received some negative backlash recently for reorganizing their logos to make a play on social distancing. McDonald’s specifically was called out for trying to capitalize on the pandemic with a “marketing gimmick,” and then faced negative commentary for not backing up their message with action. People quickly called out that the company only offered five days of paid sick leave to its 517,000 workers per year, while it promoted social distancing. McDonald’s has since apologized and updated their policy — but enough consumers had already spoken up to cause some damage. Through every stage of your brand’s COVID-19 response, remember what you stand for as a company, but also back up talk with action or else you risk looking disingenuous.

Mobilize your audiences.

We sometimes forget that a brand isn’t just a product or a CEO. It’s a community. Made up of people. We’re all looking for ways to assist others right now, and brands can mobilize their supporters to help. Monitor social media and use audience feedback to fill in the information or knowledge gaps for members in your industry. Don’t deal in anything besides factual statements from reputable sources of information and spread this to your followers through secure platforms. Inspire your audience and lead by example. If your audiences are well-informed, don’t try to compete with their news sources; instead, promote charitable partners you’ve worked with or vetted who are in need.

Look at your strengths when deciding how you can help — if you’re a member-based organization, you are adept at educating your members, so give them resources and tools for adapting to social distancing. If you’re a consumer brand, urge your customers to stay home for deliveries rather than venture out to buy something. Large, stable consumer brands may recognize that a dent in sales might be recouped by seizing an opportunity to take meaningful action and at the same time create audience loyalty by virtue of your behavior. Or if you have highly engaged audiences or popular digital channels, use that strength to drive traffic and audiences to local charities and community initiatives that need attention now.

As COVID-19 pushes teams into remote, virtual workspaces, our “Staying Connected During COVID-19” series is here to help. Let’s commit to keeping ourselves, our families, and our communities safe, one step at a time. Follow us for tips on how we can further your mission together.

Alex Blair's headshot

Alex Blair

Alex has more than a decade of experience working with global corporations, start-ups, associations, and nonprofits to craft strategies, build brands, and create change. As Director of Brand Strategy, Alex leads clients through discovery, brand strategy, and bringing a brand to life for audiences.

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