In times of permacrisis, brand is more important than ever
In times of crisis, there’s an instinct to curl into a ball and protect the essentials. That won’t work in the present moment of ‘permacrisis’, says Kate Eggleshaw of Brand Vista (part of the Definition Group).
In times of crisis, don't batten down the hatches - it's time to invest in brand / Ante Hamersmit via Unsplash
We’re only three years into the 2020s, and already we’ve seen a global pandemic, war in Europe, and a continuing economic crisis – here in the UK and elsewhere. No surprise, then, that ‘permacrisis’ was announced as Collins Dictionary’s 2022 word of the year: “an extended period of instability and insecurity, especially one resulting from a series of catastrophic events.”
The current permacrisis environment poses a hefty challenge to us all, both as individuals and organizations. Businesses now need to take in a dizzying number of competing factors, not least attempting to meet evolving customer needs that continuously shift in response to an economic, political, physical, and social environment that refuses to stand still.
When faced with crisis, particularly that of an economic nature, many organizations default to deprioritizing brand in favor of attempts to reduce cost and protect margin. However, when viewed as the lens that shapes everything your organization does and says, your brand can be a business tool that drives competitive distinction, emotional engagement with customers, employee motivation, and overall organizational alignment.
Let it slide, and you risk losing these hard-won advantages. Centralize brand in your approach, however, and you’ll find it provides a valuable compass for steering your organization and moving ahead of the competition.
Using brand to be bold
Pub retailer Greene King is emerging successfully from the pandemic, despite a challenging economic climate that’s hitting the hospitality sector hard. Its revenues rose by 62% in 2022, largely due to a brand-driven pandemic response.
Back in March 2020, we’d just finished working with Greene King on the development of their brand purpose and values and were getting ready to support their launch. Given the onset of the pandemic and closure of venues, this quickly became less about sharing the brand, and more about putting it into practice. As the brand’s chief executive Nick Mackenzie says in Greene King’s Covid Stories book, “We… put the new values to work immediately to help us set objectives that could guide us through the crisis. They informed the way we ensured the survival of the business, cared for our people and emerged from the pandemic stronger than our competitors.”
During times of crisis, leaders need to take bold action and make tough decisions. Your brand should set the path for your response to the crisis, offering clarity that enables your organization to continue moving forward in alignment, as well as providing valuable support to the leaders making those decisions. As Mackenzie continues, “Whenever I had to make a complex decision I kept coming back to our value: ‘We Care’. I sense-checked everything against this, asking how we could demonstrate it with real action so it didn’t become just a meaningless statement.”
It's not only leaders that will have to make decisions or be affected by the crisis, but positioning brand as the lighthouse guiding your organization through the storm adds a sense of organization and control, as well as empowering teams to do their best work. For teams to be motivated by the brand, it must be delivered consistently – internally and externally. This means your brand should also shape the colleague experience you deliver – from what and how you communicate, to the way you work, and the processes that you follow.
Brand experience in times of crisis
This internal power supports your organization achieving perhaps the ultimate goal of brand: increasing the strength and value of your customer relationships.
Another brand that skilfully (and perhaps unexpectedly_ achieved this throughout the pandemic is Lululemon. In March 2020, Lululemon’s chief executive reiterated the company’s intention to stick to its strategic growth plan, centring on Lululemon’s vision to become “the experiential brand that ignites a community of people living the sweatlife through sweat, grow and connect.”
Lululemon has long delivered on these experiential ambitions in-store, but was able to continue delivering on these digitally during the pandemic through actions such as the acquisition of Mirror (now Lululemon Studio). Maintaining consistency in the delivery of brand through its customer experience allowed Lululemon to continue strengthening its relationship with its growing customer base, leading to the brand’s share price surging in January 2023, after reporting 24% year-on-year sales growth.
When faced with crisis, the temptation to focus on financials at the expense of brand can be strong. But he word ‘crisis’ derives from the ancient Greek term ‘krisis’, describing a moment of opportunity, a turning point, or decision that ends in either victory or defeat. Ensure your brand remains your lighthouse in the storm during these times of permacrisis, and you’ll realize a strategic opportunity to galvanize your people, strengthen your customer relationships, and cement your position ahead of your competitors.
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