75% of Americans believe brands must step up in coronavirus fight, says Porter Novelli research

Porter Novelli's new study shows that the coronavirus is a real watershed moment for brands

With global deaths from the coronavirus nearing 200,000 (and rising by the day), the U.S. has become the epicenter of the pandemic, which has fundamentally changed the way we interact with one another. And, there is a clear hunger among the U.S. public to see more businesses stepping up to help with efforts that manage the spread of the virus, according to a new study from communications consultancy Porter Novelli.

According to the study, which surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. adults in early April, 75% of Americans believe businesses have an ongoing responsibility to support the coronavirus relief effort, and 77% believe companies must prove they’re making decisions that are in the national interest.

The public will turn to brands that are activating social purpose

The brands that act now, using their power to make a clear societal difference (such as helping in the production of PPE or providing key workers with rewards) in the fight against COVID-19, are much more likely to win public support once the pandemic has passed — a further 75% said that how companies act over the coming months will have a direct impact on whether they support them in the future.

Rather interestingly, 45% of Americans believe brands can create COVID-19 solutions at a faster and more efficient rate than their own governments. Although this could be read as a negative reflection of people’s trust in President Donald Trump’s approach, it highlights the opportunity for businesses to step up and show the public they really do care.

“There was a time where the job of businesses and brands was to make money for shareholders, but coronavirus is just another proof point for why it’s so important that companies have a clear social purpose,” says Whitney Dailey, vice president, research and insights at Porter Novelli.

“Our new study shows that the coronavirus is a real watershed moment for brands and that there’s a clear expectation they provide positive solutions for communities that are struggling through this pandemic. Brands have a big role to play, and the ones that ignore their responsibility could pay for it in the future when consumers ultimately choose to shop elsewhere.”

Brands that change their communications to suit the times will see a better marketing impact

However, the study also highlights the risks involved in brands trying to make a difference today. A hefty 73% of Americans said they would remember the companies that made bad decisions during the coronavirus pandemic, which shows how important it is that a brand gets its position absolutely right and does so authentically. In other words, companies can’t “fake” their care for society in a time of crisis; their commitment must be true.

Meanwhile, 71% of respondents said they would stop buying a brand’s products or services if they were to learn they’d acted irresponsibly during the crisis.

“During this hyper-intense moment in our world, every decision we make as leaders demonstrates our character,” adds Dwayna Haley, SVP of reputation at Porter Novelli. “Whether it’s the communications we prioritize for external consumption or the maneuvers made to care for our people internally, character is on full display. Remember that with each action you take because, even if you don’t, you can be assured that others will.”

There have been a range of approaches from brands when it comes to communications during the pandemic. Some are freezing their budgets completely, choosing to sit it out, while others are making an effort to shift their messaging to better reflect the current state of public expectation. The study shows that, while respondents believe product or service promotion that does not support some societal improvement feels “self-serving” and “uncaring”, they are giving permission to those brands who are acting responsibly to communicate about those actions.

It won’t come as a surprise to hear that 52% of the U.S. public believes the health and wellness industry is currently doing the best job to support the efforts against coronavirus. According to the survey’s respondents, media and broadcasting (24%), tech and telecommunications (14%), travel (10%) and financial services (6%) are all currently doing the worst job at making their relief efforts known to the public.

Furthermore, Americans also gave their views on what they believe businesses must do now to support efforts against the pandemic. A whopping 68% said the best course of action was to ensure their employees continue to get paid or receive benefits, 65% said they should temporarily remove fees for their services to support those hit financially from the coronavirus, and 54% said businesses should donate money directly towards relief efforts.

Kate Cusick, chief marketing officer at Porter Novelli, concludes: “We’re now certain that the decisions companies make today will define them well after this pandemic has passed.”

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