Dimensions of Brand Responses to COVID-19: Lessons from Top Twenty Global Brands

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Dimensions of Brand Responses to COVID-19: Lessons from Top Twenty Global Brands

The coronavirus pandemic, which has led to the loss of thousands of lives all over the world, has had a ripple effect on global health, economy and finance. To curtail the spread of the virus and overcome its attendant challenges, governments and medical practitioners globally proposed ‘social distancing’ and ‘staying at home’. Hence, organisations are expected to shut down and go virtual to ensure the safety of their employees and the sustainability of the human race. Although numerous organisations have announced the temporary closure of their operations, we have witnessed increasing expenditure as global brands combine effort to fight this global menace. Indeed, many of the world’s best brands have shown a great sense of corporate social responsibility by lending their support in these trying times. An in-depth analysis of the marketing communication materials of the top twenty brands quoted in Interbrand Best Global Brands 2019 reveals the emergence of five strategic dimensions of responses to the raging pandemic. The dimensions, which are fiduciary, educational, empathy, customer-focused, technological and production, are discussed below.

Dimensions of Responses

Fiduciary response: Several global brands such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Intel, Cisco, and GE have acted with the interest and wellbeing of the global population at heart by donating millions of dollars in cash and relief materials. For instance, Apple gave out over $15 million cash in Italy, the United States and Europe to support the treatment of people affected by the coronavirus and to lessen its impact on the global economy. In addition to this cash donation, Apple also sourced and supplied millions of masks to numerous health practitioners. The Coca-Cola Company rose to the challenge by awarding the sum of $13.5 million to five non-profit organisations actively involved in the fight against coronavirus in the US and Canada. Intel gave the Red Cross the sum of $1 million as a contribution to the fight against the effects of COVID-19 in the United States. Beyond this, Intel donated over one million protective items, including masks and gloves to healthcare workers operating in hospitals and care homes in the United States. Cisco donated the sum of $225 million to combat the disease. GE donated relief items worth millions of dollars globally. In China, for instance, GE donated $2.8 million worth medical equipment to fight the scourge. 

Educational response: Some business organisations are responding to this challenge by offering a variety of enlightenment programmes to the general public. For instance, to create a better understanding of the nature of the virus, Google created a new information site to convey authentic information about it. This is applaudable as it ensures that people are better informed on how to stay safe and stop the spread. Similarly, Microsoft has made giant strides towards ensuring that the general public is well informed about the virus. It has partnered with academic researchers at various universities in providing open research data set. This data set will contain over 29,000 scholarly articles about the virus. It is expected that the total number of articles on this subject will increase over time. Also, IBM refocused its annual competition on climate change to the mitigation of the impact of coronavirus on the economy. IBM also charged scholars with the responsibility of identifying better means of communication, as well as enhancing remote learning during crises. IBM is not alone. GE launched a research platform to educate people about the nature of the virus. SAP provided access to digital learning. It is committed to ensuring that the educational system is protected during these times. This online platform will provide insights on the internet of things, sustainability, ethical artificial intelligence and other exciting topics.

Empathic response: There are a number of organisations that have demonstrated the ability to understand and share the feelings of the public, especially at these difficult times in their corporate marketing and communication campaigns. The display of this virtue reveals that profit-making, at this period, has taken a backseat in the scheme of things. For instance, BMW acknowledged that the wellbeing of the human race was by far more important than cars. It encouraged the population to stay safe while pledging to do everything within its power to be a light in these dark times. Also, Facebook has promised to assist small businesses to pay the salaries of their employees in these trying times. It has offered $100 million in cash and advertising credit for up to 30,000 small businesses. Also, it has given out a bonus of $1000 to its employees as they work from home.

Similarly, Nike has announced the closure of its stores in states affected greatly by these diseases. Also, in one of its recent social media posts, the sports clothing company appealed to the emotions of customers, telling them to play inside today, so that they can play for the world tomorrow. This shows that its employees and customers’ wellbeing is of utmost importance. Also, Toyota and Mercedes Benz have shown a reasonable level of empathy by halting productions and administration in specific locations to emphasise social distancing, which is vital in a bid to lessen the spread of coronavirus. Samsung empathises with its employees during these trying times by asking them to work from home. Also, Samsung sent care packages to some of them at home, including those quarantined; disinfected its facilities and provided them with mandatory health screenings. Disney closed its facilities until further notice and paid its cast members until April 18, 2020, despite the closure. Intel has encouraged those who can work from home to do so to ensure that the social distancing policy is strictly adhered to.

Customer-focused response: While many brands are closing up and choosing to work virtually, brands like McDonalds and Amazon that provide essential services are still in operations, choosing to put the delivery of the needs of their customers above everything else. For instance, Amazon lays more emphasis on the delivery and sale of daily consumables such as baby and medical supplies, which are necessary for everyday living. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, asserts that the company has ordered for millions of masks which will first go to healthcare workers and then to their staff to ensure they are well protected, as they continue to work in the organisation. Bezos also added that Amazon is committed to hiring one hundred thousand new employees while raising the hourly wages of their workers, to get them committed to the fulfilment of customers’ needs. Similarly, McDonalds suspended the entertainment of customers in their dining halls but now serves them through other platforms such as ‘Drive-Thru’, ‘Walk-in-Take-out’ and ‘McDelivery’.

Technology response: This perspective emphasises business organisations deploying technology to lessen the impact of the virus. Recently, Facebook, Microsoft and other technology companies, in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO), reached an agreement to develop and introduce the hackathon, a software that will mitigate the impact of the coronavirus. To achieve this, an online competition has been announced. Scholars around the world are expected to submit valid ideas which will prove useful to achieving the mission. The hackathon encourages software developers to build projects focused around the themes of health, vulnerable populations, businesses, community, education and entertainment. Oracle has announced that the organisation will provide the White House with software that is capable of revealing unproven drugs for battling coronavirus. This software allows health practitioners to investigate the relationship between malaria drugs and coronavirus patients. Also, GE has addressed this global challenge by developing Noah Portable CT scanning solution for temporary hospitals in Wuhan. This technology will assist in diagnosing patients withCOVID-19. 

Production response: Louis Vuitton responded to the coronavirus pandemic by making a shift from the production of perfumes to hand sanitizers. This company has announced that it will produce hand sanitizers in large quantities and distribute to healthcare workers free of charge.

Conclusion

The review of the corporate and marketing communication activities of the top twenty brands quoted in Interbrand Best Global Brands 2019 article gives an insight into the dimensions of responses of organisations to the coronavirus scourge. These dimensions are fiduciary, educational, empathy, customer-focused, technological, and production. Beyond these, it is evident that the focus of many organisations, in times of crisis, shifts from ‘profit-making’ to ‘business survival’. Therefore, survival becomes the key focus, while profit-making takes a backseat in the short term. To survive, businesses need to be creative in their COVID-19 response strategy, customer-focused, community-oriented and empathetic as corporate citizens. Overall, any organisation that the society perceives to be caring in these challenging times will win the hearts and minds of the target audience. This reaction would transcend the period of the pandemic to build a long-lasting perception which will eventually translate into profit-making.

Kehinde Ekuruorhore, MSc. is a Research Assistant, Marketing at Lagos Business School

Olutayo Otubanjo, PhD, teaches Marketing at Lagos Business School

Ogechi Adeola, DBA, is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Lagos Business School

Kehinde Ekuruorhore, MSc. is a Research Assistant, Marketing at Lagos Business School

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