Brands are judged less by how they operate when things go right, than by how they handle situations when things go wrong.
Mark Ritson recently recounted the story of Marks & Spencer during World War II, when the retailer made ration clothing for the British public. They had to figure out how to manufacture clothing in a different way to make the most of limited materials, even as more than 100 M&S stores were hit by bombing raids. Mark said that how M&S stepped up during the war was a widely admired fact during the 60s and 70s in the UK. As he put it:
“They were with us when the shit hit the fan, and we were with them afterwards because of it.”
I think brands have to be careful to avoid shallow rhetoric in “we’re here for you” brand messaging. Jeff Beer at Fast Company wrote about the avalanche of brand communication this week in an article called “Why every brand you’ve ever bought something from is sending you coronavirus emails.”
Jeff observed that there are three tiers of brand coronavirus emails:
“First, the service message. This is the most important and helpful, the ones that inform us about a change in service, an updated policy, or a relevant discount. It’s the Gap telling you about store closures …
“Tier Two is the Brand Friend. This is where brands who have built a direct line of communication with customers feel obligated to at least acknowledge the situation, even if it’s just to say hi with a “We’re all in this together” drum-circle vibe …
“The third tier is the seemingly completely random, we-just-happened-to-have-your-email-thanks-for-buying-our-cat-food-three-years-ago message.”
Brand teams are doing a lot of soul-searching right now on how to communicate. But sometimes the best communication is not communication at all. It’s LVMH and Anheuser-Busch revamping manufacturing lines to make hand sanitizer. It’s Levi’s, Lush, and Apple reassuring staff that they will be paid despite global store closures.
Here are a few related cartoons I drew in 2008/2009: