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Pivot with Purpose

In my last column, I wrote that Anheuser-Busch and Ford had pivoted from beer and pickup trucks to hand sanitizer and ventilators.

These companies have permission from customers to stray from their core business, because their brands stand for more than what they sell.

Expectations about the role brands play in a national emergency have changed forever. It’s not a new lesson, but smart business leaders know that in times of crisis, brands must shift their focus from the business of making money to doing right by people and advancing the common good. Simply put, brands must pivot with purpose.

What does pivoting with purpose mean? It means tapping into your brand’s DNA and leveraging the benefits you provide customers, beyond the products and services you offer. It means defining what your brand stands for, its purpose, and how your brand can play a meaningful role in people’s lives during this crisis. It means pivoting from everyday commerce to delivering value in new ways, tangible and intangible, whether it’s service, education, logistical support, or community.

According to a recent Edelman Trust Barometer survey conducted with 12,000 consumers in 12 countries, people want brands to step up in a crisis, or risk losing the relationship forever.

According to Edelman:

· 62% feel their country won’t make it through the crisis without brands playing a critical role.

· 67% say they have bought a new brand solely because of the way it has acted during the crisis.

· 71% say that if they think a brand is putting profit over people, they would lose trust in that brand forever.

The Coronavirus has created a new normal for brands, led by purpose, authenticity, and trust. Consumers want brands to be empathetic and compassionate. They want brands to forego business as usual and leverage all of their assets and resources to help. When they do, consumers will reward them.

A good example of the new normal is Coca-Cola. Instead of promoting soft drinks, Coke has turned over all of its social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, to worthy organizations like the American Red Cross, the Boys & Girls Club, Global Citizen, and the Salvation Army. People will remember this the next time they’re offered a choice between Coke and Pepsi. It shows that brands can do well by doing good, and in the process, strengthen their relationship with loyal consumers.

Like a lot of folks, I’ve been watching more TV, and more TV advertising, lately. I’m amazed that some well-known brands continue to run tone-deaf spots. But I’m also encouraged by other brands that are addressing the crisis head-on, leaning in to their brand purpose, and offering messages offering hope, empathy, and support.

Here are a few TV spots that I feel are hitting the right notes:

· Walmart – Honoring brave employees who keep the doors open, with highly emotional spots that celebrate them as everyday ‘heroes’.

· AT&T – Truly living its brand promise of ‘keeping us connected’ in today’s virtual world.

· USAA Insurance – Reminding us that ‘being prepared’ and ‘overcoming challenges’ is not limited to their own military customers.

How is your brand rising to the challenge? Does your company value people over profits? Brands that pivot with purpose will emerge from this crisis stronger, more relevant, and more beloved than ever.


By Lee Rafkin, Founder & CEO of Rafkin & Company.

Branding, marketing, and communications consultant based in New York. In addition to advising leading brands like Discovery Networks, Estée Lauder, Medtronic, Nestlé, and Pepsico, Rafkin has named and branded organizations like OUTFRONT, Geopath, and Boldsite Media. Learn more at rafkin.com and reach Lee at lee@rafkin.com.

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