The urgency of addressing exceptional, sudden and severe operational challenges has dominated the agendas of business owners and directors over the past few months. This is certainly clear from conversations with clients, and when listening to the candid views of leaders in online panel discussions.

While the shifting sands of lockdown restrictions require careful attention as they reverberate through supply chains, and among our customers and employees, there’s nevertheless a sense that we, as businesses, are ready to take a breath, look up and look ahead.

I’m not a runner, but I think it’s easy to identify with the analogy from global business strategist Accenture in its recent report ‘A Brand. New. Purpose.’

that leaders must “combine the sprint on COVID-19 response with the marathon of longer-term socio-economic impact”. We need to adjust our breathing, our rhythm and our focus so that we’re able to go the distance.

Relevance

We know that, whatever our line of business, we must be relevant to our customers and to meet their needs. What’s remarkable about the current times is that these needs are changing dramatically. People’s tangible needs for products and services, what they value, have shifted as lifestyles adapt to social distancing. During the first weeks of the pandemic, sales of personal hygiene (+34%), cleaning products (+25%) and canned food (+21%) were up, while fashion (-30%) was down.

But emotional needs have changed too; feelings of anxiety, isolation, anger, injustice, solidarity, caring, self-expression. From last year’s environmental activism, to lockdown’s ‘clap for carers’ and very recent Black Lives Matter protests; the issues that people care about are visible, audible and evident, on our local streets, worldwide media and social media feeds. And, increasingly, they are affecting the buying choices made by individuals.

Global research by Edelman, conducted in early March just days before the UK lockdown, showed that 60% (UK 52%) of people reported turning more towards the brands they trust, and 37% (UK 24%) had recently started using a new brand because of the innovative or compassionate way they had responded to the health crisis. These reactions were even more emphatic when asked about their future intentions; 65% (UK 64%) said that how well a brand responds to the Coronavirus crisis will have a huge impact on the likelihood they’ll buy that brand in future.

The desire to see brands act responsibly is not new, it’s a trend that’s been growing over recent years. Accenture Strategy’s Global Consumer Pulse Survey 2019 showed that 65% of consumers (74% of 18 to 39-year-olds) want businesses to take a stand on issues that are close to their heart. And 43% of consumers will walk away when they are disappointed by a brand’s words or actions on a social issue.

Human reactions

While these studies refer to brands and consumers, we’re really talking about human reactions to the actions of other humans, the people in the businesses we buy from.

What we can learn from the research is as relevant to small businesses as global giants, to those selling to other businesses or direct to end-users.

As the prolific marketing strategist and author Professor Malcolm McDonald said in a recent webinar, “we sell to people” so it’s vital that we understand our market segments as groups of people, assess how their world has changed, and understand what we need to do to meet their changing needs.

Purposeful strides

So, as businesses prepare to move from sprint to marathon, it may be helpful to re-assess some of the fundamentals.

Having a clear sense of purpose, vision and mission can reaffirm your place in the emerging world. It will give you and your team the confidence and clarity to orientate your product or service offerings towards the new needs of customers. And, to engage with trust and authenticity with wider communities.

Consider the following:

  • Purpose: Why does your organisation exist? What’s the overall belief for the future that drives you? It may even feel so big it’s unobtainable, but this steers every decision. Think about the long-term effect you want to have in the world; your customers, industry and the environment. Having a clear purpose will help you to ‘test’ whether future opportunities will move you towards this goal.
  • Vision: This is like a snappy version of your three- to five-year business plan. It captures what the organisation wants to achieve within a defined time period; what success looks like. It’s specific and measurable.
  • Mission: In a nutshell, what do you do that makes a difference to the people you serve? How will you apply the special skills, services and attributes of the organisation to bring benefit to your customers?
  • Behaviours: What are the actions and behaviours that you encourage most? This will indicate the values you actually find most important.
  • Values: Your core beliefs in action; choose perhaps four to six values, each one with a few behaviours.
Running partner

Finally, to round off the earlier analogy, when gearing up for a marathon it can be helpful to have a running partner. Someone to support, challenge and help you work towards your goals, come rain or shine. We’re proud to run alongside all of our clients. If you’d like a conversation about how we can help you pick up the pace with purposeful communications, we’d love to hear from you.

Authored by Sarah Bryars.