With all eyes now on the 21 June and the ‘will they/won’t they’ on final restrictions being relaxed, speculation continues to swirl around what the longer-term repercussions of this pandemic and multiple lockdowns will be for society. Is it going to be flexible working from here on in? Are housebuilders going to respond to our new appreciation for more outdoor space and home offices? And how is this going to change the way we do business and our consumer buying habits?
Before Covid-19 hit, companies were increasingly articulating their services or products around a greater sense of social purpose and civic responsibility. Corporate straplines, websites and mission statements were more likely to talk about communities and driving socio-economic change than the commercial offer per se. Articulating a strong purpose and corporate values was seen as critical to protecting and enhancing brand reputation, and attracting customers.
But with bottom lines pushed to breaking point for many during this crisis, how far is the pendulum now going to swing back to purpose versus survival?
In the eye of the coronavirus storm, many companies have had to make extremely difficult decisions to stay afloat – from furlough and redundancies, to reductions in real estate or services. And those commercial pressures aren’t simply going to disappear just because the pubs are open again.
Yet the businesses who emerge stronger from these testing times will be the ones that keep purpose firmly at the forefront. Research from Kantar shows that strong brands that are different and purposeful tend to recover quicker in times of crisis and perform better over the long term. It also sees a trend towards consumers placing more emphasis on companies’ reputation and purpose when deciding to buy.
Because if there’s one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it’s how adaptable we all are – and how adaptable industry can be. We all remember being cheered by the stories of businesses quickly diverting their operations to produce PPE, hand sanitiser, or food parcels for the NHS. And we’ve seen first-hand what can be achieved with the right focus, commitment and investment – Nightingale hospitals constructed in days, and the development and rollout of multiple successful Covid-19 vaccines. Consumers and governments are going to come to expect the business community to use that same mentality to address the other big social and economic issues of our age – from regional inequality and housing poverty to the climate emergency.
Beyond that, the horrors of this pandemic also awakened our collective civic consciousness (toilet roll hoarding aside) and starkly highlighted the inequalities in society. I’d like to think we won’t forget that in a hurry – and that businesses won’t either.
After all, companies need to stay alive to what’s important to their consumers and their employees to retain a competitive advantage. And if there’s one thing this pandemic has given us, it’s a new perspective – and one firmly motivated by purpose.
Emily Barnes is an account director at Camargue