Communication, Content, and the Coronavirus: The Long View

Evaluating Where We Are

We’re living in unprecedented times where everyone in the world is having their daily lives disrupted in some way or another by the coronavirus. The New York Times recently published the most comprehensive article to date on what the year ahead holds, and while it offers hope, as the publication tweeted: the year ahead will be painful. If you haven’t read the article, I highly recommend it.

We’re in this for the long-haul, and instead of pivots, we need to be thinking about paradigm shifts.

For those who are fortunate to be healthy enough and have the ability to work, we’re all trying to balance the new normal of sheltering and working from home, meeting deadlines, and keeping our sanity to the backdrop of homeschooling kids, finding grocery delivery slots, and self-care.

Bond Capital, with partner Mary Meeker, shared a special coronavirus trends report that emphasizes this point by stating, “With an abrupt shock, many of us – other than those who are infected or serving those in need of care – have shifted from navigating the ‘rat race’ to moving at a relative snail’s pace. We are living in a hunkered down world that in many ways seems more attuned to life from another era – but in 24×7 streaming global color.”

The report also points out that digital transformation is being accelerated. Here at Sociality Squared, we’ve been helping our clients embrace digital even more and are seeing this firsthand. One client who focused on in-person events is now hosting online learning webinars and getting record attendees.

For brand marketers, we’ve seen rapid pivots to adapt to this new normal in marketing communication and we’ve also seen companies quickly emerge to help people connect in different ways (one of my favorites to date is IceBreaker).

In reacting and adjusting marketing communication, we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the funny attempts. All brand marketers should be pivoting. With this pandemic, our thinking needs to go beyond the typical crisis communication where a fire needs to be put out or an issue quickly addressed. We need to lean into our brand values and re-orient them where needed.

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Leaning into Brand Values

In the haste to adapt during what some are calling this Great Pause, we also need to take a pause as marketers before we publish any sort of communication. We actually need to take a big step back and think not only about the long view of our marketing plans and communication, but how our brands are adding value and what our brand values are. Now is a time to not only lean into our values, but it’s also an opportunity to reflect on them and see if they still hold up. Similar to our daily lives, it may not be easy, but is needed.

While true brand character is put to the test when crises arise, we also need to examine the content and what we may have become content with during times of comfort. What are the foundational values of our companies and brands and are they part of our core business practices? Or just part of our marketing communications?

I do believe that businesses can be successful and be a force for good, but in order to do so, value alignment needs to start with our core business practices first, and then be communicated out.

Brand integrity is when companies walk the walk of their values and not merely talk the talk.

One example stands out to illustrate this point. You have a company like Nestle share how they’re responding, and I don’t want to discount the good that they are doing like supporting charities, medical institutions and other organizations in the frontline of the fight against this pandemic. At the same time, it also feels like a new form of greenwashing or a corporate responsibility program ancillary to core business practices. Nestle – along with Mars, Hershey, and Godiva – have core business practices that have been and are continuing to contribute to human rights violations using child labor to source its chocolate and have missed every deadline for the last 20 years to eradicate child labor. No matter the circumstance or crisis, this is inexcusable. It can’t be swept under a rug or forgotten because of their charitable actions now. Antonie Fountain, managing director of the Voice Network, an umbrella group seeking to end child labor in the cocoa industry shared in the Washington Post article: “The companies have always done just enough so that if there were any media attention, they could say, ‘Hey guys, this is what we’re doing…It’s always been too little, too late. It still is.” We can do better, and we must do better.

As we reflect on our brand values, we really have to examine how our good intentions are executed in a way that actually makes a positive impact.

Don’t get me wrong, there are complicated issues to solve – like safely reopening our economy with a new vision and ending child labor in an impoverished region. However, they are solvable. To begin, we simply have to make the DECISION to WANT to do this. It is within us to solve ambitious and complicated issues. We’ve done it before – we’ve put a man on the moon after all – and we can rise to the challenge again.

Re-Orienting Brand Values

We have to re-orient our values and the role business plays in the world. Businesses are an important aspect of our societies and can be a force for good. We can decide what we want the future to look like and build our business practices around that vision. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see more brands truly aligned with purpose-driven missions making a positive impact on all facets of society?

This may mean shedding business practices that don’t actually serve all stakeholders, and only serve shareholders.

We have the chance to redefine how we want the new normal to look like and use our voices in our companies. We all have a voice that goes beyond the scope of marketing. This isn’t a one-department issue, and the whole company needs to be involved. And a seed for change can happen from anyone, anywhere, and at any time. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t include to use your voice with your wallet and at the polls as consumers.

During this Great Pause, every brand has the opportunity to take a really good look in the mirror and reflect on the alignment of their values and core business practices.

Brands need to think about the long view, instead of just the views on tomorrow’s post. But since you may need to pause tomorrow’s post, we have some tips for you there too — discover the tactical questions to be asking right now about your communication plans.

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Written By:

Helen Todd

Helen Todd is the co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared, a full service social media agency based in New York City since 2010 who understands the magic of people coming together around what they value and love. Helen is an award-winning marketer, international speaker, and also an advisor and speaker for SXSW Interactive. Helen holds a Master's degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from Emerson College.