Marle-Maria Janßen
Head of Strategy

Three to-dos on how companies and brands discover, use and expand their antidote for times of crisis.

Many proclaimed corporate visions of recent years were adorned with the romantic decade date 2020. It was to be the year in which the vision-driven, future-oriented plans could be experienced, target groups inspired, and new growth markets conquered. In 2020, companies wanted to be positioned to master the next decade – ideally with a leading position.

And then everything turned out quite differently. Covid19 roams the world. No country, no place, no industry, no company is spared. It affects everyone. Everyone is shaken – even the world of brands.

Every Crisis Has Winners

Covid19 has changed the space of brands in a very short time. And drastically. Some brands were deprived of their entire distribution channel for weeks; others lacked the goods and production facilities to distribute at all.
The digital business units and those companies that integrated a digital fallback option had a clear advantage – and still do. This is not to say that digital companies and their brands had it easy.

As best practices, fast-reacting brands were quickly propelled to the front of the pack. As quickly as Covid19 spread, they offered their customers needs-based solutions that reached them in their new, limited everyday lives. Such as Lieferando, who integrated »contactless delivery« option into their platform. Audible, who provided free entertainment and educational content for children. Tesco, who offered exclusive supermarket opening hours for at-risk groups. Or Telekom, who streamed the audience-free James Blunt concert in the Elbphilharmonie live for free.

What made these companies and brands so responsive? How could they react with such agility to sudden, unpredictable changes?
It would be too easy to say that a digital business strategy (or digital fallback option) and an agile corporate culture were the decisive, driving factors. After all, these alone are no guarantee of relevant solutions that meet real needs. Though important, both factors merely provide answers to the »how« – how we reach our stakeholders.

So where can we find the decisive leverage to respond to crises? And not to be driven by change, but to drive it ourselves.

Consistency as a Driver of Change

Whenever change is at hand, especially pandemic-level change, it is worth taking a closer look at what does not change. What is constant and immune? In branding terms, it is the essence of a company. A company’s essence describes its reason for existence, raison d’être, overarching task. It is the source of change, innovation and disruption. Its essence is independent of channels, products and contact points – and therefore crisis-proof.
Every company has such an essence. It is a vision, mission, why or if you are marketing trend-driven, a purpose formulation. Even if the essence is not yet formulated – it exists. I can prove it.

True Essence vs Marketing Babble

It can currently be observed that many companies and corporations are entering the development of such a purpose formulation. In part, to finally manifest the essence standing in the room haunting the company corridors, or to compress the existing formulations into a few words and a melodious sentence that everyone likes.

Deutsche Telekom, for example, wants to transport everyone into the digital age, and currently communicates it as follows: »We are only satisfied when everyone is there«.

Purpose is a current trend. Even if it is overused in the branding context, this trend is justified and should get a lot of attention in companies, especially at this time. But you must know how to use it correctly. Otherwise, it remains a useless phrase. Nastily put: marketing blah-blah-blah.

Three To-Dos for Crisis-Proofing

Here are three to-dos, so that your purpose is more than a melodic phrase but is your crisis-proof source of successful transformation.

To-do #1: Service Design

Do you have a Purpose Statement?

Yes? Then your first to-do is »Service Design«: Translate the statement into tangible added value. Tangibility makes it easy to test how good your formulation really is. Does it only sound good or can the staff really extrapolate actions? Because that should always be the purpose of a purpose.

Still haven’t formulated a purpose? No big deal. What is important is that you can answer in a few words why your company exists. Writing it down helps to manifest the essence and quickly deploy new employees as brand ambassadors, for example. The name you then use for the statement is completely irrelevant.

To-do #2: Culture Design

Your employees and colleagues are the most valuable assets you have. A purpose or the formulation of your essence has only one task: guiding behavior. And in such a way that the corresponding target groups can experience the essence through brand activities. It is, therefore, crucial that the purpose is anchored in the workforce as a tool for guiding behavior. To be accepted as a guidance tool, a purpose statement must always come quite naturally from the company and the workforce itself. It must be in the language of the corporate culture. Every department, every employee must be able to find themselves in the formulation.

Ideally, the workforce is involved in the development of a purpose, for example, through joint workshops or surveys.

To-do #3: Agile brand design

You now have a purpose statement that manifests your essence and gives you orientation in times of change. You have translated the statement into relevant solutions and anchored it in the workforce. Now it is time for agile design and agile management of the brand because branding must be understood as a never-ending process.

Even if the essence is something enduring – its translation into solutions must be context-driven. Brand is always the intersection of corporate identity and the target group world. What do the target groups’ life-worlds look like? Which micro-trends are currently relevant? Which technological developments will have an influence? Context signals the brand management approach, and the energy for this starts in the company. Sustainable brand relevance is ensured when context and company energy are brought together. This is not a linear process. Brand leadership, design and management must establish an “inside-out-outside-in” process. Yes, this process principle can be understood as “company or marketing department = inside” and ” the outside world = outside”. But an “inside-out-outside-in” process is also meant to break up a company’s existing silo structures and brand hierarchy. Impulses that advance the brand can come from any department of a company. They just need to be heard.

That an individual can emerge from a crisis stronger than ever also applies to brands. Use your crisis-proof essence and align it with the context – again and again. And your brand will undoubtedly be on its way to achieving the corporate vision in the next decade – perhaps even in as a market leader.

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