THE LONG READ…
Doubling down on brand purpose
This week Trendwatching brought our attention to the website Did They Help? The site allows consumers to search for companies and celebrities to assess how they responded during the pandemic, in terms of helping health professionals, supporting the vulnerable and protecting their staff.
With overly sales-orientated messaging crass and inappropriate in the midst of an economic and humanitarian crisis, companies have been forced to take a good look at their reason for being, higher purpose and social contribution. Some have been forced to pivot altogether. The result? Under Covid-19 conditions, we’ve seen that it is possible for companies to create mutual value for both business and society. Couple that with the rising trend for radical transparency, where consumers increasingly hold companies to account over their internal cultures, actions and commitments and it’s not hard to see a new future where we increasingly rate companies by their social value.
Canvas8’s excellent ‘Re-evaluation’ webinar went so far as to suggest this could be the moment in time when we break ‘society out of the inertia that has locked it into neoliberal economics’. Similarly, former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney posited this week that we’re seeing a new dawn of stakeholder capitalism, where the values of economic dynamism and efficiency are joined by solidarity, fairness, responsibility and compassion.
Steady on, says The Drum. Are we going to collectively acknowledge the positive actions of LMVH, Zara and Pret et al for years to come with our hard-earned cash or are we going to quickly forget and return to Weatherspoons despite their poor staff treatment during the crisis? Markets tend to have short memories after all.
Our view at Etch? Call us idealists, but we do believe that companies will be judged on the basis of their behaviours now and in the future. Who stood by their suppliers and staff when the going got tough? Who gave away margins to support society’s most vulnerable? Significantly, who acted consistently with their pre-crisis commitments to high ethical standards, excellent supplier and staff relationships and sound purpose vision? Who continued to pursue social value creation post-crisis? For an excellent case in point, take a look at The Pig Hotels’ Instagram account. The hotel group’s actions are a true masterclass in selflessness and social responsibility under extremely challenging circumstances.
Trading privacy for public health
Speaking of companies behaving differently under COVID-19 conditions, there was much talk this week about Apple and Google breaking down competitive barriers to collaborate on COVID-19 contact tracing technologyand Microsoft embracing open data. At first glance, this is remarkable. Microsoft once referred to free open-source programmes as a ‘cancer’. The idea that big tech companies would join forces and share proprietary information was virtually unthinkable just a few short weeks ago. But with a few more minutes’ worth of consideration, the ethical queries start to rear their heads.
As Mintel mentioned this week, this could be a key inflection point. To control the virus, governments are looking to track consumers’ locations, contacts and biomarkers at scale. Smartphone technology represents an obvious way of doing this, so governments are forced to work hand in hand with big tech and big data firms. For consumers it poses challenging ethical questions, not least in how comfortable they feel about trading privacy for public health and wellbeing.