HomeBlog Do the Right Thing: How Brands Must Act During a Crisis

Do the Right Thing: How Brands Must Act During a Crisis

April 13, 2020 | By Ian Bruce

  • Engaging with customers and other stakeholders during a crisis is often a struggle for B2B companies
  • Actions is a crisis should be guided by your firmly held brand values and brand purpose
  • Some B2B companies are showing the right approach and providing an example of how to build trust and loyalty

Paylocity — a provider of payroll and employee management solutions — started redeveloping its brand identity in early 2020. In the process, it created a new brand mission statement: Forward Together. The company launched this mission statement in early March, unaware how suddenly its fidelity to this mission would be tested.

COVID-19 is testing the mettle of every B2B brand. Lofty mission statements and carefully crafted brand values are either serving as the North Star that guides corporate actions or being revealed as paper tigers. In the long run, companies that live by their values will likely weather this crisis best, preserving and strengthening trust and loyalty among customers. In Paylocity’s case, it quickly recognized that its products and services fulfilled a critical need by helping businesses adjust to stay-at-home mandates and the severe economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.

The company also foresaw a need to educate business owners and their employees about the impact of new government relief legislation like the US FFCRA and CARES Acts. Paylocity took swift action, opening up its platform so all customers could access new training content, and survey capabilities specifically to help with the crisis. Staff created guides to help businesses use mobile and community enablement features that supported newly remote workers. When the US Congress passed the CARES Act to give direct aid to affected business and employees, Paylocity staff worked over a weekend to make sure that businesses and their teams could sign up immediately, then fielded more than 2,000 individual questions from a webinar explaining the new legislation. As one Paylocity employee explained, “This has life or death consequences for these businesses.”

Paylocity isn’t alone. Companies as diverse as Cisco, Salesforce, and GE have all demonstrated a commitment to their brand values in this crisis. Brands live in action, not words: They exist in what you do, not what you say. This is especially true in a time of crisis, when brands will be judged on the basis of how they respond. Brand building takes years to accomplish, but that well-burnished image can quickly disassemble if organizations act rashly and counter to their expressed principles. The SiriusDecisions 2019 CMO Study revealed that creating a purpose-driven brand was the top implementation priority among all respondents.

Brand purpose is borne from the company’s mission, vision, and values, and these should guide how brands behave. In another recent SiriusDecisions survey, this time of more than 100 brand leaders at B2B companies, 84% felt they had some documented brand purpose at their company.

However, when we asked how they actually express brand purpose, a very different picture emerged. Although significantly more than 50% promoted their brand purpose in marketing campaigns, published it on their website, and included it in employee training, well below 40% put this into action by supporting external organization aligned to the brand or through ethical sourcing policies informed by their brand purpose. Clearly, it’s a challenge for most B2B companies to live up to their values.

The brand can be a rallying point for creating consistent and values-driven communications to all stakeholders in the business. Directly referencing brand values and principles in executive and other communications can foster a shared understanding of goals and objectives, which can bind employees, customers and others together at a difficult time.

To learn more, join us at Summit 2020, where I will be presenting “How to Find, Build and Activate an Authentic Brand Purpose” with Paul Ferron.

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Ian Bruce

Ian is a principal analyst in SiriusDecisions’ Marketing Executive Services. He has more than 20 years of international experience managing marketing and brand and communications strategies for B2B companies, spanning PR, social media, analyst relations, brand development, messaging and internal communications at innovative, venture-capital-backed startups as well as established multinational companies. Connect with Ian on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @ianrbruce.

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