“In the moment of crisis, reactions set leaders apart from a follower”.
This quote is as applicable to leaders as to brand in the covid-19 crisis. As it’s the case in a crisis, some brands struggled. Some showed remarkable resilience and drive for innovation.
But is there a pattern among firms that have successfully responded to covid? Let’s start with usual suspects — access to capital, advertisement or just not shutting the shop.
Unsurprisingly, it’s not just the biggest companies with significant capitals who have impressed the consumers. Similarly, barring a few creative social media posts that went viral, I couldn’t find advertisements that garnered significant positive reviews. Finally, the firms that just operated as a business as usual also failed to create an impact.
The common theme I could observe across firms that stood out during the COVID crisis is a deep sense of commitment toward serving the community, innate to these firms. It’s the commitment to the community that has driven these brands to not just serve but step up to solve the problems of greater scope.
Let me highlight a couple of firms that stood out to establish this theme:
- Zomato reinforced their commitment to the welfare of delivery boys and food communities with initiatives such as contactless delivery (even before US players), launching grocery delivery, and donating food for daily wage earners.
- Tata pledged $200 Mn for affected communities. The group’s IT arm was working on COVID tracking systems, and Tata-owned Hotel Taj offered free meals to healthcare workers. Tata has been always committed toward the future of communities it has operated, and this time was no different.
- Mahindra Group has also done a remarkable job during the crisis. The firm has retooled its facilities to manufacture ventilators and low-cost sanitizers. The firm didn’t just operate as a business as usual but stepped up to solve the problem of community.
Other firms that stood out during the crisis in India include BigBasket —hiring 10K people to deliver amid capacity constants, HUL — reduced price of sanitizers and soap, and Reliance (retooled production facility to produce mask, offered free fuel for emergency vehicles, and dedicated 100 bedded center of COVID patients)
These brands have leveraged their competency and resources to focus on what they can do instead of what they do. In many cases, rivals banded together to collaboratively solve the problem. Dunzo, Bigbasket, Grofers, Swiggy, and Zomato dealer with authorities to get permits for a smoother delivery.
In contrast, firms such as Apple, Amazon, or phone manufacturers (Oneplus or Oppo) have struggled to leave a mark in India. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that all these firms are subsidiary MNCs based outside of India and not deeply immersed in the community. A mere press release or donation of a few thousand masks isn’t enough!
Why the response to the covid-19 crisis matters?
It’s no surprise that the world is moving toward responsible consumption where how brands enrich the community is an integral part of consumer decision making. That’s why we see a premium associated with the brands that invest in the local community via hiring locally or sourcing locally (neolocalism).
COVID-19 crisis has been one of the testing times in the recent past for brands, and in times like this, consumers get to see what brand truly stands for. Consumers wouldn’t forget who solved their problem in these tough times.
That’s why, brands such as Tata, Mahindra, Zomato, or even local retailers who have fought with the community against covid would see a likely jump in consumer trust and loyalty.
Further, as the local businesses have played a significant role in the crisis, we would see a rise in neolocalism in India. If sufficient awareness is created, the consumer would prefer to buy brands that hire and source locally.
PS: Quite a few friends of mine have said they would watch every damn movie of Akshay Kumar going forward (if you aren’t aware, he donated ~$4 mn to PM relief fund).