When Unpredictability Forges Brand Authenticity

Alan Newbold

Onward is an exclusive content series authored by broadhead’s thought leaders, highlighting their unique perspectives on adapting, adjusting and pushing forward.

Written by Alan Newbold | SVP, Public Relations

Amidst all the lessons 2020 has painfully and effectively delivered to date, I think personal responsibility hits the top of my list. I’m fiercely aware of my personal responsibility for my health, my family’s health, and the health of those around me. I’m acutely aware of my personal responsibility to take notice, take action and take ownership of my points of view related to social unrest and racial injustice. I’m frighteningly aware of my personal responsibility to observe, research and untangle political points of view and domestic and global economic pain points in a volatile election year. And I’m uncannily aware of my personal responsibility to be mindful and caring of the feelings and experiences of others, whether close family, random acquaintance, or yes, clients. If I’m experiencing all of this from a point of view of “one” – and failing and succeeding equally, depending on the day of the week – how does a company or brand process these 2020 events, assimilate this information and succeed?

As a communications agency, one of our first lessons of 2020 unpredictability was delivered firsthand in late February. We grappled with industry conferences and trade show attendance decisions, while conference organizers and trade show companies themselves grappled with cancellation or participation. For me, in my personal pandemic timeline, this was a line of demarcation, how brands showed up in these passionate, early COVID-19 online discussions took on a life of their own. Founders, CEOs, brokers, buyers, brand managers and sales and marketing teams were suddenly talking about not only the safety and survival of their companies, but of their companies’ employees. This was new territory – sometimes visceral and sometimes heartbreaking. But it gave us a glimpse into what was to come, how brands might engage in these bold conversations, and how we, as partners, might counsel them.

And then 2020 just kept on giving. Since February, the list of civic, cultural, economic, political and health challenges served up to brands has been relentless. And 2020 hasn’t been selective in the brands its schooled, either. 100-year-old brands to start-up brands have been indiscriminately challenged in their actions and reactions across today’s physical and online environments. Some are succeeding better than others – and we see a correlation between that success and brands taking responsibility and ownership in three key areas:

Know your past. Established brands have the interesting challenge of staying true to their history. They have a solid grasp of their perceived role in society and a deep knowledge of their consumer base. They often have a better understanding of how much or how little license they can take to participate in the unprecedented virtual and physical conversations 2020 has offered up. Brands making moves to thoughtfully engage are faring better than those whose actions are perceived as out of character or forced. Slow change can still be powerful change.

Stay true to the present. No matter a brand’s age or history – it still needs to operate in the now. And with the “now” and “new normal” in a constant state of change, maintaining vigilance and a listening ear is vital. Brands have amazing access to real-time information up and down their supply chain, sales and retail partners, social channels and employee voices. Turning up the volume to these sources can make a big difference in brand authenticity during times of social and economic strife.

Plan for the future. The current environment presents some incredible opportunities to plan for a brand’s future beyond sales growth. Consumer behavioral changes and societal expectations are becoming more apparent and a force for change. Brand purpose, mission and vision, workplace equality, supply chain and sourcing transparency, to name a few, are more valued and visible than ever before – but not easily or quickly addressed. Brands recognizing their role in reinforcing these sometimes painful but always powerful elements are already being recognized for those efforts.

With Fall 2020 stealthily waiting to deliver more lessons yet unknown, there will certainly be ample opportunity for us all – as brands and humans – to take personal responsibility for our actions and reactions and show up as authentically possible. We’ve got this.