COVID-19, Leadership, Communication

The fundamentals of brand leadership during a crisis

Alex Izza

6 April, 2021

COVID-19 has prompted brands to ask hard questions of themselves. When it counted did they stay true to their values, turn words into actions and support those who rely upon them? Communication is essential here, helping a business to craft a narrative for itself during the crisis and ensure key audiences are kept informed.

The pandemic has been a disruptive and stressful period for workers. They have been thrust (at times overnight) from offices into remote working, traditional workplaces turned into a regimented space of bewildering COVID-safe regulations. Effective communication is crucial to cut through this noise and provide direction to employees to help them navigate through the crisis. Internal comms is important here, putting COVID-19 support on workers’ radar and assisting them in understanding the company’s direction during the crisis.

Having a voice

But this work is not enough. Brands cannot afford to stay silent during an era-defining crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. Key external stakeholders need to be made aware of all a business is doing to rise to the challenge of this moment, and set firm foundations for future success. A LinkedIn social media campaign is a powerful way to build awareness. Our client NTT DATA UK recently launched a new initiative, known as The City Gives Back, to support service workers and their families who are struggling during the pandemic. We produced a series of posts including video interviews, news announcements and photo stories. Each one built up NTT DATA’s reputation as an inspiring industry leader supporting those in need in The City of London.

Media activity offers another route for a brand to message with confidence during the crisis. We secured coverage for our client Ensono in leading Indian HR publication, ETHRWorld. It featured an interview with Kamal Vatnani, India Leader – Culture & People Experience at Ensono, discussing Ensono’s HR strategy during the pandemic and its long-term vision for continuing to support its people. The article has twin value for Ensono. Firstly, it provides industry leaders with a detailed introduction to how Ensono delivers effective HR, positioning Ensono as an innovator which others can learn from – the article particularly focuses on Ensono’s successful virtual onboarding scheme and the organisation’s merit and reward programme. Secondly, a headline of ‘Ensono increases headcount by over 70%, to hire for mid to senior level leadership positions’ sends a clear message that Ensono is a successful, growing organisation, with opportunities available for the right candidate.

The bottom line

There is a commercial necessity behind these actions. Increasingly, customers are demanding more from brands to earn their trust. New research from our client Iterable found that 87% UK and US B2C marketers felt the need to change their company marketing strategy to better build customer trust. Brands were increasingly drawn to take a clear stand on the social issues everyone was talking about: more companies issued a public statement on racial inequality (47%) than on public health (40%) in 2020.

Clarity on mission and purpose helps an organisation to stand out from the crowd. Customers are increasingly attracted to brands to which they can build a deeper emotional connection to. Little wonder, perhaps, that in a sector like retail denied the physical interactions with customers during lockdown, purposeful communication has risen to the fore. Nearly 90% of marketers at retail and ecommerce brands saw their organisation as mission-driven in 2020 – as covered in an article we placed in key retail publication Talking Retail.

Personal task

Finally, in many ways the ongoing task of effective communication in a crisis falls in large part on the personal responsibility of leaders. From the leader of the smallest team, right up to the CEO, leaders need to bring their teams with them through the crisis. They should be helping the messaging and goals of the brand filter down, ensuring every worker is imbued with them. And of course, in this new remote/hybrid working era, the duty of care of a leader rises particularly to the fore, working hard to ensure all employees (wherever they are in the world) are looked after and supported.

As a new manager myself, I am just starting out on this journey. But I am determined every day to help both my team at Resonance and our clients to find a direction and purpose during this global crisis, and into whatever the months and years ahead have in store.