In times of chaos, it helps us to channel our founding partners Luke Sklar (The ‘Explorer’) and Charlie Wilton (The ‘Sage’). Their sage advice and explorer mindset always help us see the light.

If Luke were with us today, he would push us to say…

What is the SW&A POV on COVID-19 with respect to helping businesses and marketers succeed?

So here is our 5-point answer. 

1. The Best Defence is a Good Offence

Whether it’s a safety recall, recession, natural disaster, or global pandemic, it’s natural to take a defensive position. Yet time and time again, offence turns out to be the best defence.

Some brands get it right when the pressure is directly on them. In what is now a famous case study, Tylenol communicated quickly and clearly, accepted responsibility, and acted immediately during their 1982 cyanide crisis. They quickly recovered and continue to be a top brand of pain relief (20% share in 2013).

More recently, Maple Leaf Foods reacted well during the Listeria outbreak in 2008 when listeriosis contamination was discovered at one of its meat processing plants. Michael McCain, CEO, took immediate charge of the situation, recalled all products from the affected plant, offered a full and public apology, and accepted responsibility. As shared in a Financial Times article, he stated, “there are two advisers I’ve paid no attention to. The first are the lawyers, and the second are the accountants.”

Other brands get it right even when the pressure isn’t directly on them. Procter & Gamble was one of the first brands to increase spending as a result of Hurricane Katrina with a number of key initiatives to help people who were desperately in need. Tide Loads of Hope and Charmin Restrooms focused on improving sanitation, and Duracell Rapid Responder brought mobile charging stations to increase communications. They saw an opportunity to help the community and came out stronger as a result.

Whether you are a grocery store, a hotel, or an airline, take the time to really think about what offence could look like for you.

2.     Think Like Charades: Actions over words.

This isn’t a COVID-19 implication. This is 2020 marketing.

Instead of telling people what your brand is about, demonstrate it, and then share the story. Because of COVID, athletes and sports business owners have chosen to take care of hourly arena workers (read about the NBA, or the NHL). Alcohol companies have chosen to look out for bartenders (read about SpiScience and their GoFundMe).

Take actions that demonstrate your brand values rather than trying to communicate those values in words.

3.     Start from the inside out

Your first investment should be with your employees. Brands that are built from the inside out achieve far more sustaining results than those that don’t. In fact, brands that miss this step will negate any wins with the consumer.

Right now, Jeff Bezos, whose assets are currently estimated to be worth $110 billion, is taking a beating for suggesting that Whole Foods hourly employees donate their sick days to colleagues who need them. On the other hand, Starbucks plans to “take care of anyone impacted” by COVID. Time will tell which strategy is more effective.

After employees, think about other important groups of people who are part of your business path. For example, in addition to consumers, a beer company relies on bar owners and bartenders, both of whom will need help.

 Take actions to support everyone on your path to the consumer.

4.     Brainstorm ways to help and prioritize those ways based on impact and speed of implementation 

For each of employees, other key stakeholders, and consumers, brainstorm all the ways you couldhelp them with your brand features, benefits, and values, keeping Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, or the ERG Theory of Motivation in mind.

Right now, every one of those needs is in play. The leadership team at a beer company might decide to continue to pay hourly workers who need to take sick leave (physiological needs), re-invest media dollars into buying gift cards for restaurants and bars to be used later (safety and security), and also promote porch parties (love and belonging).

Find ways to address the variety of human needs.

5.     Be courageous in implementing a plan, especially for businesses that are most severely impacted

This is NOT easy stuff, particularly if your industry is in the crosshairs of COVID. But this is an opportunity to zig while others zag.  While hotels, airlines, retail, and restaurants all face daunting tasks, it’s an opportunity to create some space with your offence.  As many wise people have said, you can’t cut your way to growth.  Just ask ABI, which has been called a “CFO’s nightmare,” or Kraft Heinz, failed in invest in its brands after 2015

Demonstrate the high road and be the leader.

Please, if you are leading a business in need because of COVID-19 and want to talk to someone about what playing offence could look like for you, do contact me, Manoj Raheja, at mraheja@sklarwilton.com.