If there is one clear brand truth that has emerged from Covid-19, it is this: building a credible brand requires more than signaling your good intentions through a broad-based paid advertising strategy. It calls for a deep understanding of the community you serve, and a long-term commitment to addressing its needs.
When Covid-19 first hit, creative teams scrambled to strike the right chord at the right time. From pulling ads (appropriately so) that conveyed times of revelry and close-contact, to removing strong calls-to-action for product sales, brands found themselves seeking new ways to connect with their customer base. Then came the second attempt at connected advertising - the “we are with you” phase: the messaging flooded inboxes and 15-second spots with what seemed like a somber template to build customer connection.
What happened next was an education in the shift in consumer behavior that left many brands feeling rejected by their audiences. People cried foul. Parodies inspired by brands’ attempts to relate went viral and memorialized sentiment that had already been swelling in online forums and chats. Brands wondered, “how did we miss the mark?” In its simplest form, the answer is: they didn’t have the relationship with their audiences they thought they did.
For brands to create the foundational connections that are so crucial with their customers, they must first establish genuine relationships with the communities they serve. Now more than ever, these steps start and end with:
Listening & Learning - Social Listening: More than a Buzzy CRM Component
It’s an act of human connection. Social listening requires active listening to understand perspectives outside of your social media channels, outside of your corporate offices, and deep into the communities that your products and services serve. For CommonSpirit Health, which was formed by the alignment of Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives, our brand foundation of humankindness was built on the notion that inspiring kindness both inside and outside of our clinical walls was crucial to our connection with all of our stakeholders. Our brand story can’t be told without a deep understanding of and dedication to this fundamental need among our community.
Covid-19 has changed – and continues to change – consumer behavior and expectations. People have canceled annual travel plans, weekend excursions, and even commutes to the office. They are staying close to home and focusing more on micro-communities – their immediate family and neighborhoods. Digital communication has increased at warp-speed as people look to connect to relate and find a sense of familiarity in what once was the norm.
Brands committed to learning about their customers and building honest relationships with them must first start by understanding and participating in the community needs. It’s not an empty promise but a dedicated purpose. Brands must actively listen, adapt, and serve a higher purpose than selling a product or a name. The process begins with something as simple as listening to your employees, knowing what community issues your brand can align with and partnering with organizations that will serve your commitments.
Building Messages WITH Your Community
Once brand values are established, be present with your communication by delivering messages built on the foundation of what is heard within your community. If we start by asking ourselves, “how does this product/ service/ message make my community better?” you are on the right path to begin developing deliberate and meaningful brand communication.
We’ve been inspired by “found footage,” or real footage of people engaging in selfless acts of humankindness. By using these real-life examples in our marketing efforts, we demonstrate our commitment to the healing power of kindness, and our messaging continues to be aligned with these essential narratives.
Start a movement by inspiring others to take action with you. When people feel like they are a part of something bigger – a community of like-minded partners who share their common value – brand communication becomes more connected and authentic. According to the National Association of Advertisers, 92 percent of marketers adjusted their brand messaging once the pandemic began. Brands were quick to jump on the bandwagon of messaging in a time that was perceived to be exploitative to many people. Messaging did not reach consumers in an impactful way, and it had the potential to create a divide between brand and consumer trust.
Understanding the Evolution of Brand Purpose
Today, most companies have a well thought out brand purpose. Purpose is powerful, but don’t forget to look inward and outward when thinking about purpose. A shared purpose requires that a brand not just determine what’s important via focus groups or surveys, but engage with its employees and the community to ensure you find and capture true needs among your community.
Shared purpose unlocks a brand’s ability to communicate and comprehend by creating and strengthening trust. The result is an authentic three-way dialogue that will serve the company and its customers incredibly well, no matter what’s going on in the world.
Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults say a company’s “primary purpose” should be “making the world a better place” (New Paradigm Strategy Group & Fortune 2019
). Brands that demonstrate shared values and make positive impacts outside of their business move the needle of humanity forward.
At CommonSpirit Health, compassion and connection are steeped in how we operate no matter the circumstance or situation. Our shared purpose of humankindness can be demonstrated now more than ever. Supporting our neighbors in need, caring for the community, and making real human connections has given us a chance to be the voice of reason and compassion, and positioned us as a trusted center of knowledge in our respective communities.
Mark Viden is senior vice president of brand at CommonSpirit Health