April 2, 2020
Tough times bring out the best in most human beings and institutions. For luxury marketers preparing to reignite their businesses post-pandemic, it is key to stay adaptable, agile and sustainable during the next several weeks and months.
For brands, their goal should be to do everything possible to remain viable during the crisis and then thrive again.
Here are five key recommendations that luxury and premium goods and services brands may find useful:
Build brand equity through generosity and kind deeds
Many mass-marketing experts are advising brands to continue their advertising and public relations campaigns throughout the pandemic crisis.
Some of that advice is triggered by the fact that the advertising and public relations industries are in dire straits and need revenue.
However, this may not serve the best interests of their clients.
It is recommended that ads and messages that appear trivial, forced and self-serving will backfire strongly, especially in the luxury segments.
Consumers, especially educated affluent consumers, are highly sensitive to mercenary versus missionary behavior during threatening periods.
Ethical and socially responsible brands already know that the only way forward is to serve society and those in need in the most relevant ways. And to do it right now, when it matters.
To name a few, LVMH converted its perfume lines to manufacture hand sanitizer. Kering made a financial donation to the Institut Pasteur to support its research into COVID-19.
Additionally, Kering houses Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent are preparing to manufacture masks while complying with the strictest health protection measures for their staff members.
Another Kering brand, Gucci, has started #GucciCommunity and will make two separate donations of 1 million euros each to crowdfunding campaigns, including the United Nations Foundation’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and National Civil Protection Department.
Burberry is using supply chains and facilities to manufacture hospital gowns and masks for the National Health Service (NHS) and funding the University of Oxford’s vaccine research.
This is the moment for brands to demonstrate with deeds, not words, that they are humanitarian. Everything else is irrelevant.
Protect furloughed and laid off workers, including contractors
Countless brands have been forced to furlough or lay-off employees and stop using contractors due to cash issues.
Those brands should be mobilizing to actively assist each and every individual in how to apply for, and get, every benefit for which they legitimately qualify.
Most of these human beings are living paycheck-to-paycheck and they cannot afford a financial crisis on top of a health crisis.
Brands need to educate employees to understand the complex bureaucratic governmental processes that they must endure to survive this calamity and protect their loved ones.
If needed, go beyond the legal requirements and bring in expert help to handhold employees through the process.
While they may be expecting their employer to leave them to their own wits, this is a time when brands must take a major leap in generosity to protect their employees.
With every step taken by the brand, good or bad, stories are being told and the brand narrative is being written. Make sure that the stories are about going above and beyond, even when tough choices must be made.
Help associates, clients and partners cope with the mental and physical stress and loss
One of the most important factors in coping in a crisis is to provide team members, partners and even clients with private and confidential access to professional counseling that can help in interpreting and reframing the fear and impact they are experiencing.
Confidential counseling can help human beings carve out a constructive way forward. Some constituents of the brand will experience high levels of fear, yet will not be affected directly. Others will be directly affected or will experience losses of all types.
Help may be in the form of an open, volunteer group webinar just to chat, or one-on-one confidential assistance.
To the degree that brands have the resources, they must procure the best professionals possible to help human beings navigate the fear and the pain of human loss.
This is not something that every brand can afford, but it will be an immense and relevant gesture of nurturing and generosity in a world that has always been lonely and today is isolated under medical and financial threat.
Beyond the financial threats, acknowledge the loss of relationship and connection that comes with not coming to work.
Many frontline employees deeply value the meaning they have in their client’s lives and with their peers. It costs nothing to be available to them to acknowledge how valuable their relationship building skills are to others.
Whatever their financial situation, they are likely feeling sadness or anxiety about missing the relationships and human connections in their daily routine, and the difference it makes to their well-being.
Open up the education channels to all team members
Whether the brand is continuing to pay employees, has furloughed or laid-off people, this “down time” is an opportunity to keep employees’ minds off the pandemic to some degree.
Help them build high-level career skills that will serve them for life, or skills that will improve their agility and get them ready for when the brand is back to full-scale operations.
Whether it is internally generated product knowledge and emotional intelligence skills for frontline associates, free or paid courses on digital transformation and artificial intelligence (AI) for senior executives, now is the time for organized, relevant individual or group learning.
This moment should not be a throwaway due to paralyzing fear, or a lack of creativity and imagination. Avail even those who have been laid off, and may not be rehired, of the free opportunity to learn and build skills for life. It will be duly noted and talked about online and through word-of-mouth.
A brand’s ability to hire the best people in the future will be affected by how much relevant education and skills building opportunities it provides during the pandemic.
Dust off the critical projects that had been put off due to lack of time
There are critical strategic and operational projects that have been put off or delayed. This is a time when the team can be more productive than ever before.
Teams can learn how to brainstorm, plan and execute brilliantly, even in a virtual setting.
Many luxury executives report that they are far more productive and have greater life balance now during the pandemic due to not having to spend time commuting, traveling or in unnecessarily long meetings.
There are projects that need to be achieved despite the pandemic, and new projects that must be tackled due to the pandemic.
Scenario planning to get mentally and physically ready to operate under any circumstances is one task that the truly innovative brand teams are executing brilliantly, across geographies, channels and functions, right now.
Planning for the near- and longer-term future, identifying risks and opportunities along with gaps in skills and resources, honestly and fearlessly, are a must. Plan for success, not failure.
UNFORTUNATELY, AS HISTORY SHOWS, in any crisis there are winners and losers. That seems to be one of the harsh lessons of history.
History also shows that those who operate out of fear or neglect usually disempower themselves and their teams into failure.
The luxury industry has been a witness and a participant in practically all of history’s tragedies and crises.
However, it is the only industry whose brands span hundreds of years of overcoming major challenges and achieving long-term success.
While consumer research shows that the history and heritage of a luxury brand is not as important as it once was, the kindness, generosity and agility of luxury goods and services brands during this pandemic may revive that reputation of historic good citizenship and resilience as critical drivers of a brand’s success.
I wish every luxury and premium goods and services brand the best of luck, but most importantly, we hope every brand will execute great emotional intelligence and operational skill during this period.