African brands need to drive a purpose-led response to Covid-19

Given the sheer scale of the Covid-19 pandemic and the potential devastating impact of human life and economies on the African continent, it is time for brands to step up and practice what they preach. They need to drive a purpose-led response to the pandemic by giving life to their brand promise and values and becoming truly pre-occupied with how they support their customers and employees during this very difficult period. Consumers are generally looking to brands that demonstrate their WHY and play an active role to support all initiatives that have an impact in the battle against the pandemic.

It is crucial brands play a leading a role in alleviating the pain points and create an environment of hope and optimism. Strong leadership will be needed and those in power who do not adopt a strong ethical position will not be able to deliver adequately and will, ultimately, face the risk of trust erosion.

People are looking to brands that demonstrate their WHY which is their purpose or beliefs, the reason they exist and the difference they are making in the lives of customers and society at large. Every brand, of course, has a raison d’etre (reason for being) and while many of these brand manifestos are written inside brand manuals, inscribed on walls within organisations, and expressed in advertising messages, this crisis presents an opportunity for brands to deliver on these ideals.

When consumers look back at this moment in the years to come, they will remember the brands that lived their purpose and visibly demonstrated their commitment to delivering on their promise by playing a role to alleviate consumer anxiety and pain points in a manner aligned to who they are and the category that they play in.

Successful brands have three things in common: (a) They take leadership positions; (b) they have a unique brand of service and (c) They have an enviable people brand. It is these three aspects combined that enable these brands to outperform others and lead in market competitiveness.

Stand up for what matters

It is important for brands to take a leadership position and stand up for something during this period. Given the multitude of different government, stakeholder and customer needs across the continent, brands need to align their context, organisational capabilities, brand purpose and decide what they are going to take a leadership position on and what role they will choose to play in support of relief efforts within their respective markets. This may also mean that brands need to review their pre-Covid-19 marketing plans and realign their investments to initiatives that will create the biggest impact and relief for customers and the respective market. As the adage goes, stand for something and be remembered or stand for nothing and risk becoming irrelevant post-pandemic.

Brands now, more than ever, need to be pre-occupied with how they can support their customers and employees during this very difficult period both psychologically, physically and financially. It is important for companies to be empathetic and play a genuine role in alleviating the pressure and burden on consumers. Being empathetic means reassessing the relevance of products and service offerings at this time, and how these can be enhanced to deliver meaningful value to customers.

There are many great examples of how brands are providing support to customers through things like premium relief in financial services to brands providing support to small and medium enterprises in other industries. But part of playing a supportive role is also being “present” for customers and this requires brands to actively improve their omnichannel presence and create alternative ways to engage with customers and employees. Increasing digital presence, 24 / 7 help desks, call me back services, communicating via Whatsapp and leveraging video content are some examples of how brands can be present in people’s lives.

The pandemic has led to the acceleration of omnichannel strategy implementation and brands are increasing digital presence via online, mobile and social media. These access and touch points will only become more important as key engagement platforms going forward.

Employee wellbeing will continue to be a major area of concern as the sustained lockdown heightens mental stress and therefore brands must continuously engage employees and provide the necessary support through provision of counselling, coaching and tips on WFH (working from home), and coping mechanisms and strategies. Employees are the face of the brand and it is important that they are able to operate at the highest standard and live the brand purpose at this moment.

 Brand sense that makes sense

It is not just what brands say, but also how they say it, which includes the tone of the brand, the subliminal messaging that it sends, the physical environment within its channels and the type of experience that the brand creates. Essential service brands that are open during the lockdown period are also finding innovative ways to keep social distancing within their location environments, whether it be a retail outlet, branch, customer service centre, or other public service locations.

It is important brands think through all the aspects of the customer experience that will demonstrate that the pandemic context and customer anxiety is understood, that steps have been taken to ensure the company plays a role in alleviating customer pain points and is creating an environment of hope and optimism.

Given the sheer scale of the crisis, it is clear brands cannot do it all alone. An ecosystem of partnerships to address end-to-end solutions that may be required by governments and stakeholders across the continent is a practical way to close gaps.

And given the depth of experience and expertise within the brand marketing and communications industry, brands should therefore be working and partnering with governments to support clear and simple messaging to the millions of people across the continent.

In conclusion, language is also critical for breakthrough messaging, and therefore being able to translate communication into different languages across all markets will be key. There has never been a more important time for clear, single-minded and unambiguous messages and communication to citizens, educating them on what to do and the different ways in which they can protect themselves and their loved ones.

Written by Andisa Ntsubane, an Africa marketing expert


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