Emerging into the light

by Martin MacConnol – Jun 11, 2020

Around the world we are emerging from our bunkers and starting to think about how our businesses function and ultimately thrive as lock-down rules loosen.

For marketers and communicators this provides its own challenges – and we sought to explore them in a webinar on Thursday June 11.

For those who were unable to make the session (and it was great to be joined by more than 60 attendees from around the world) the Wardour advice can be summarised as follows.

It’s important to remember the context before lock-down started. Before the crisis began we lived in a corporate environment where social purpose was coming ever more to the fore. This was driven by a variety of factors, but not least BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, insisted as late as March that it would still judge companies on the basis of good governance and commitment to climate change and sustainability.

The corporate push to better behaviour reflected consumer activism. We may not have heard much from her recently, but it was only in January that Greta Thunberg was decrying world leaders at Davos, and Trump in particular, with the cry: “Our house is still on fire.” Greta is an emblem of a much wider movement of the young which sees those of us in the older generation, the world’s current government and business leaders, as “boomers” who are scything away the future.

Initially at Wardour we believed that Covid-19 would derail this corporate and consumer drive to social purpose. But now we think the opposite. Since Covid-19 emerged we have seen people across western democracies becoming more active. At the start, so much of this was positive: clapping for carers, the creation of local action groups to look after the vulnerable, donations to food banks. But as the lock-down has continued and the reality of furloughing in the UK and straightforward unemployment in the US has taken its toll, that activism has started to pivot into something more negative. This is unsurprising. There is a new class of needy being created, people who never thought they would have to use a food back. Understandably they are hurting.

Add to this the murderous behaviour of Derek Chauvin and the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and what we have is a tinder box, a tinder box which is exploding statues across the UK and other geographies as people in huge numbers protest Black Lives Matter.

The conjunction of all these factors makes us at Wardour believe that Covid-19 is going to act as an accelerant of social purpose not a diversion away from it. Some think we will revert to the old ways once things calm down, they point to examples from the past, ‘life went back to normal after the Spanish Flu didn’t it’? But at Wardour we think differently, technology is an enabler of activism as never before. We have a hurting public who not only have the desire to see things change for the better, but the ability to mobilise rapidly in a new way.

So our message to clients across marketing and communications is clear.

1) Ignore public mood at your peril, look at the train wrecks of hasty decisions at Virgin Atlantic, Wetherspoons and Sports Direct.

2) Show you are a business which has a purpose beyond just making money, which has a right to exist because of the benefits you bring.

The ideas which seem key to us in the weeks and months to come are to demonstrate a commitment to:

• Innovation for the planet’s benefit

• The well-being of your customers, employees and wider stakeholders

• Value for money: your audiences are poorer

• Sustainability, an approach which is good for future generations

This doesn’t mean becoming worthy but dull. People’s moods need lifting. For many clients all of this will involve dialling up the emotional in their marketing and communications work, not just relying on the immediately rational. It will mean being powerful in telling stories that show you get the ‘new normal’ and are in step with the reality of your audiences’ lives and concerns.

For those companies that get it right, they will not only weather this storm but turn a crisis into an opportunity by creating and fostering well placed trust.

We are planning to rerun this webinar with the perspective of a Singaporean company: Klareco Communications. We are also planning to run more webinars on this and related topics over the course of the summer. If you would like to know more please contact us at marketing@wardour.co.uk

Published Jun 11, 2020

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