Go out onto the streets in any major city and you may sense a feeling of unrest.
If there isn’t a protest or demonstration happening around you, there likely has been one recently or there will soon be thousands marching over the very place you’re stood in support of some cause or other.
The pandemic has left everyone feeling insecure about their future. If it’s not our health, it’s our jobs/livelihoods. If we were asked, the country will likely be divided on whether we believe the government has managed the pandemic well, or if we think they’ve made a massive balls-up of the crisis. 2020 has certainly given the entire population something to talk about.
The death of George Floyd in America saw thousands and thousands of people take to the streets as part of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. It wasn’t restricted to the States, however, and plenty of people demonstrated across the UK.
So, what has this got to do with marketing?
Just after Floyd’s death, when people’s anger was incredibly raw, a raft of companies showed their support. Images of clenched fists and all-black logos showed these businesses as standing in solidarity with the protestors.
We’re in the marketing age of authenticity and transparency. Because of customer review sites and social media, few companies can get away with lying or failing to follow up on a promise nowadays—they’ll always be found out. If any brand were simply using the BLM movement or similar as a simple PR stunt, they’ll have certainly found themselves in the news, but not for the right reasons.
As people tentatively step out of the safety of their four walls, ready to begin life again after isolating/shielding from coronavirus, they need companies to demonstrate that they’re safe to visit. This is also where authenticity matters—it’s not enough to just read that a company is doing everything they can to combat the virus, they must show that they are.
I’ve personally seen some companies manage health, hygiene and social distancing well during the pandemic, as well as some that feel it’s clearly a ‘something we’ve got to do, but we really couldn’t give a toss’.
Retailers such as B&Q are still sticking to their ethos of a small number of customers in store, making the rest wait outside, despite having larger premises than most. On the flipside, supermarkets, who were initially trailblazers when it came to understanding the ever-changing social distancing regulations, have largely given up trying to direct people up and down specific aisles or having them wait to enter the store.
The backlash against Wetherspoons showed how the media can manipulate the Covid situation to serve their own agenda. Tim Martin, Wetherspoon’s chairman, was seemingly less than sympathetic to his staff at the outset of lockdown when the furlough scheme was being ironed out; he reportedly told them that he wasn’t prepared to pay good money for them to sit at home, and if they needed funds in the interim, they should go work at Tescos. This was disputed by his staff attending the meeting, who confirmed that his words were taken out of context. They said that he was simply trying to allay his staff’s worries about their finances—telling them that, until the furlough scheme paid out, he wouldn’t hold it against any of them if they were to take temporary work elsewhere to ensure they could pay their bills.
Same words, different meanings, but the press had a field day and thousands of customers said that they would ‘vote with their feet’ and show Tim exactly what they thought about his statement. It will be interesting to see if Wetherspoon’s customers choose to believe the media or the chain’s staff, now that they’re free to enter their pubs.
Being honest with your customers is never a bad idea. If you can’t fulfil your promises, don’t try and fudge the issue, just let the customer know, genuinely apologise, and ask how they would like you to put things right.
If you’re taking a stance against something, make sure to follow this through with your actions—don’t just pay lip service. If you’re an advocate of climate change, for example, make sure your packaging is recyclable wherever possible, and don’t be that CEO who takes an aeroplane to their meetings as often as the rest of us change our socks. Give back to charities/causes of your choice, through financial and/or product donations, physical support and spreading the word. Don’t talk about change, BE the change.
Being authentic will attract customers who appreciate your ethics and opinions.
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