Most companies take their vision, mission and values seriously. Unfortunately, they can often overlook their business definition, which goes further than those statements to provide direction and guidance during times of crisis.
One socio-cultural shift that has taken place over the past few decades is the public’s declining trust in governmental institutions, accompanied by a greater confidence in businesses. Companies have incorporated messages of caring and social responsibility in their mission statements and business plans. An unforeseen crisis can be an opportunity to display and reinforce such commitments.
A business definition covers many aspects of a company, such as who they are at their core, the role they play in society and principles that guide their conduct. It also provides general guidelines on how to respond in a public health crisis such as a pandemic. Should advertising messages be altered or toned down? What role should the company play in public health and information? What should they do about employees’ and customers’ personal safety and economic well-being?
During a crisis, a proper response will not happen automatically; an organization must have something to go by that reflects their values and public reputation. Different departments within an organization must abandon siloing to send a consistent, unified message. Things can go badly off the rails for a brand if they are not prepared in this way. A recent example is a local supermarket which was eviscerated in the press and scolded in public by a senior politician for price-gouging disinfectant wipes.
Many other public brands are demonstrating more enlightened behaviour consistent with a business definition, however. Some beer companies, for instance, are fundraising to help bartenders across the country, who they know survive on hourly wages and tips. Many essential service providers, such as grocery stores, are modifying their sick leave and other policies for employees to allow them safer working conditions. They give seniors special times for shopping and enforce social distancing rules at the check-out counter. Fast food restaurants and coffee shops are switching to take-out and delivery services, with some providing special services to seniors and the poor. Service providers such as gyms are posting online workouts, and internet streaming services are offering free children’s educational shows and other content.
Public surveys conducted during the coronavirus crisis have shown the public expects organizations to do their part and work with government to be a part of the solution. There will be pressure on every company to demonstrate that they take social responsibility seriously. A business definition is an aspirational statement that can help guide a company through unexpected challenges and preserve and enhance the value of their brand.
The topic of this article is inspired by the curriculum for the Schulich ExecEd program Strategic Branding in the Digital Age: Building, Communicating, and Revitalizing Your Brand.
This world-class program gives you the skills to contribute meaningfully to ongoing marketing decision-making and the strategic branding of your organization’s products and services.
Due to the COVID-19 health emergency, the upcoming session of this program (April 20 – 22, 2020) will be delivered online.