7 ways that companies stood out in their coronavirus response (and 3 ways they missed the mark)

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a series of acute challenges for businesses. Companies have had to adapt existing business models, overhaul operational systems, and rethink marketing strategies to meet new government regulations and shifting societal needs and behaviours. And their actions  have been scrutinised intensely by customers, the media, and the general public.


Doing the right thing, for the good of the nation, impacted positively on reputation, trust and consumer loyalty. Yet those companies or leaders who were perceived to be putting self-interest above the national interest – or those acting without empathy or compassion – were severely criticised.


Public opinion was swift and binary, with multiple lists of ‘saints’ and ‘sinners’ being drawn up, even appearing on celebrity social media feeds. Pledges of loyalty, future custom – or withdrawal of custom – were plentiful.


The Covid-19 crisis acted as a real-time stress test for corporate purpose and company values.


Here are 7 ways that companies stood up and stood out:


  1. Pivoting business models and production lines to repurpose buildings, equipment, and staff to help meet the increased demand for products and services that directly supported national efforts to stop the spread of the virus (e.g. the fashion industry manufacturing personal protective equipment, or distilleries producing sanitizer).


  1. Putting purpose above profit. Acting quickly – sometimes in advance of government regulations – decisively and with clear moral intent, even if those actions were at the expense of profits in the short term (e.g. closing shops early to help stop the spread of the virus).


  1. Acting with a sense of fair play and team spirit. Companies making decisions in keeping in the spirit – not the letter – of the law were widely applauded (e.g. not taking up government financial support schemes if they could afford not to, or CEOs and leadership teams taking pay cuts).


  1. Maximising core purpose and skills to achieve the greatest benefit to society: upscaling efforts, communicating boldly, and breaking new ground in a changing world (e. supermarkets keeping the nation fed, the BBC creating extensive educational content, or telecommunications providers keeping the country connected).


  1. Putting employees first. Prioritising the safety and wellbeing of employees was constantly in the spotlight. Companies were applauded not only for keeping staff safe, but also for acting with empathy, compassion, and an understanding of the new complexities of life (e.g. allowing those shielding or with caring responsibilities to work from home).


  1. Prioritising key workers and vulnerable customers. There was a rebalancing in the value and importance placed on certain jobs like medics, carers, and public service workers – and a renewed focus on the vulnerable in our communities. Companies were expected to keep pace with this public sentiment (e.g. supermarkets setting up dedicated hours for key workers and vulnerable customers, or restaurants providing free meals to NHS workers).


  1. Getting communications right in terms of tone, pitch, and frequency. Companies who communicated in an authentic and empathetic way, ensuring their communications were informative, targeted, and relevant stood out.


And 3 ways companies got it wrong:


  1. Misjudging the public mood. Whether through their actions taken (e.g. trying to bend the rules or deliberately misinterpreting government guidelines) or in their tone (e.g. treating the situation too lightly, criticising national efforts, or appearing to capitalise on the crisis to market and sell products) – companies not in step with public opinion were quickly rebuked.


  1. Putting profit above purpose – prioritising their own business needs over the health and wellbeing of society at large (e.g. companies classing themselves as ‘essential suppliers’ in order to continue trading), or those forcing staff to deliver products and services in unsafe environments led to widespread condemnation – and usually swift policy U-turns.


  1. Not doing the ‘right thing’. The public did not judge companies favourably who were perceived to be acting without a clear moral compass (e.g. taking advantage of the situation to force through unfair workforce changes, or profitable organisations availing themselves of government financial support schemes).


I’d love to know what you noticed during the last 6 months and if you have any great examples of businesses who got it right (or wrong). For the full report, which includes a detailed look at the specific actions that companies took, please get in touch.

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