Is ‘doing good’ good enough for brands?

With scores of brands doing good during this time of crisis, how will customers differentiate them? Moensie Rossier asks the question.

Amidst COVID-19, the overwhelming trend in brand behaviour is doing good, but it’s being done in a way that’s quite category generic with brands that have traditionally fought hard for differentiation converging around similar responses. The car industry has pledged to repurpose its production lines to make ventilators and masks, telcos are keeping people connected and entertained at no extra cost, digital platforms are giving a leg up to small businesses, the list goes on.

People say their future purchasing behaviour will reward the good guys, but with entire categories doing much the same thing, who will be remembered for their generosity and can-do spirit? By using positioning to define a unique approach to social impact, brands can improve both their standing and their standout, without being seen to be profiteering.

Even in testing times when altruism holds the trump card, strong brands naturally serve their corporate purpose, at the same time as serving the greater good. Cultural alignment is like muscle memory: they act on-brand, even when the primary goal is to help people in need. They show they care in a distinctive and genuine way, in keeping with culture and positioning. They show how doing good can differentiate.

Sir James Dyson, inventor, designer entrepreneur and founder of the eponymous Dyson brand, said his dream remains to this day, “Having an idea for doing something better and making it happen – even though it appears impossible.” In collaboration with The Technology Partnership, Dyson created a ventilator called the CoVent in just 10 days. True to its unique brand of problem solving and culture of discovery, the company designed the equipment from scratch, specifically to answer the needs of coronavirus patients. CoVent is portable and can run on a battery in a field hospital.

In keeping with its cheeky challenger personality, Virgin Australia was one of the few brands brave enough to show a sense of humour on April Fools’ Day, while turning the pranking tradition on its head by helping people instead. Virgin offered to ‘rescue’ thousands of rolls of much-in-demand toilet paper from grounded aircraft and storage facilities and donate them to people via its community partners.

LEGO exists to “inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow” and is committed to building a future in which learning through play empowers children to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners. The LEGO Foundation is donating $50 million to charities aiding families in need, while LEGO Group is sharing fun, play-based learning methods.

Beyond COVID-19, customers and stakeholders will expect companies to continue to demonstrate responsibility towards people and planet, while at the same time, markets become more competitive. Rather than eroding their point of difference and business focus, brands should try to find distinctive, authentic ways of caring that fit with their culture and beliefs. If they don’t, smaller companies will lose out because big players that occupy the lion’s share of mind are more likely to be remembered for what they did. For large companies, having a unique position on social licence will be even more important, as regulators focus on getting more competition into industry sectors.

To define your position, firstly, identify what drives the culture in your organisation. Business consultant Nikos Mourkogiannis’ purpose framework identifies four sources of cultural energy: ‘Discovery’, ‘Heroism’, ‘Excellence’ and ‘Altruism’. Altruism is an obvious choice for overtly empathetic brands, such as ‘buy a pair, give a pair’ shoemaker Toms and cruelty free pioneers The Body Shop.

Your brand position can equally stem from Discovery, Heroism or Excellence. It should link directly to your brand idea, which guides and filters everything you do and say. This strategic thought sometimes finds expression in an external tagline, such as Aldi’s ‘Good Different’ or IBM’s ‘Smarter Planet’ – but the brand idea always acts as a touchstone for staff to live by in everything they do and say. Aldi has been publicly thanking staff, partners and shoppers in TV spots with the message: “Your good makes a big difference.” IBM has been sharing its resources – supercomputing power, virus tracking and an AI assistant – to answer the COVID-19 related questions of citizens, governments and researchers.

To be competitive, ensure your unique brand of care comes from the heart of your brand. Going forward, how you do good will be as important to business as doing good is to the communities that you serve.

Moensie Rossier is a Strategy Director at Principals.

Photo by Nsey Benajah on Unsplash.