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It’s time to connect with community – but with caution


The world has been turned upside down and our behaviours, needs and priorities have been thrown into disarray.Although everything may feel like it’s in free-fall, now is the time for smart businesses and brands to adjust their business models and communications with an eye on the future.

Nicole Gardner
This is a post by Nicole Gardner
April 6, 2020

One thing we know for certain in these uncertain times is that changing conditions have led to a rise in community spirit. Ironically through self-isolation we’ve discovered a new sense of connectedness.
This presents an opportunity for brands to make a stronger, more tangible link with the customers they serve. From Sorbent upsizing their average pack size as a response to demand, to the local restaurants now operating direct takeaway service from their front doors, businesses and brands are re-affirming their connections to the communities in which they operate.

But the changes we’re seeing aren’t restricted to tactical operational responses. Many businesses are seeing the upheaval as a way to build a sense of community around their brands for the future. The opportunities are certainly there, but the path is unchartered and it’s important to proceed with caution. A few recent examples help illustrate my point.

Koala furniture, always a maverick in business and in communications, were faced with the unforeseen problem of having media space to fill after deciding it was wrong to be flogging furniture following the sudden economic downturn. Rather than taking the delete and charge option, Koala responded with understanding and empathy. They filmed an ad that did not talk directly about themselves but instead focused directly on the feelings of their customer. People, many of whom are small business owners, all around Australia, whose livelihoods have suddenly been displaced. With the subtle presence of a roaming Koala sofa that moves from location to location, they created a message of unity and support for all Australians to buy local, when we eventually get back to normal. Subtle and full of hope.

On a different tangent, New Zealand-based but globally renowned Les Mills demonstrated their unfaltering commitment to ‘a fitter planet’ when lockdowns closed their gyms. Teaming up with TVNZ, they took to the airwaves and began broadcasting daily fitness classes to the nation. With free time at home at a peak, giving audiences something to do will help them maintain their wellbeing while providing a unique sampling opportunity with workouts usually exclusive to Les Mills members. They are growing a sense of community and standing with New Zealanders (metaphorically) shoulder to shoulder.

But when does showing your sense of community over-step the invisible boundaries to become a blatant act of opportunistic salesmanship? Your industry, its existing reputation and your individual response all play a part. And even the most genuine of gestures can appear self-serving.

Family owned Fairfield based Marando Real Estate recently made the Sydney news by delivering much needed groceries to local elderly residents. As one of the recipients of the care package noted “We might get him to sell our house one day”. This initiative has certainly got a foot in the door for the future, but at what price to the reputation of the individual business, or real estate agents in general? The cautionary tale here is to make sure your motivation is sincere and can only be interpreted as such.

Pivoting and developing new initiatives and communications that protect the long term security of your brand or business is a must in these unprecedented times. But those that will benefit will want to protect and nurture their customer’s wellbeing for the long haul, not simply take advantage to make a quick buck.

Brands in today’s turbulent conditions and the new world of tomorrow need to be relentlessly relevant to this new sense of community spirit. In good times and in bad, they need to gain and maintain customer loyalty and trust. So proceed. Continue to innovate, communicate, add value and connect emotionally with your consumer. But do so with caution.

This article was originally published on AdNews