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All hail Great British businesses!

16 April 2020

By Clotilde Gros, Partner

As a French person living in London, I’ve been really impressed to witness the surge in solidarity as the whole UK stands united in the fight against the coronavirus. Be it clapping for carers and key workers, supporting local businesses or staying at home, Britain has turned its hand to fighting the virus together.

This greater sense of togetherness does not stop at a personal level. We are seeing a number of Great British companies looking at ways to support their communities, the NHS, key workers and staff during these unpreceded times. Many businesses have even gone the extra mile to offer free advice to those supporting the fight or refocused their manufacturing skills to produce medical supplies to help tackle the outbreak.

One could argue that companies are trying to survive this crisis by looking at ways to further expand their product offering to ensure it remains relevant and at the forefront of consumers’ minds by doing the ‘right thing’. But I would like to think that British business’ decision to help tackle the crisis is genuinely sincere.

The ‘Blighty’ spirit can be seen in the moves made by our home-grown brands. From start-ups to global brands, British business has been doing its bit.

There has been a raft of media stories focused on how companies have behaved during the COVID-19 crisis, particularly those operating in consumer facing sectors.

These efforts have been noticed.

To name just a few, Burberry dedicated its resources to support those impacted by the outbreak of Covid-19 and is currently working to facilitate the delivery of surgical masks, non-surgical masks and gowns for use by medical staff and patients. Boots said it will support the Government amid the coronavirus pandemic by rolling out COVID-19 testing facilities for NHS workers across the UK. Hovis is supporting local communities near its manufacturing sites by donating bread to foodbanks. Diageo said it would supply two million litres of alcohol to make hand sanitiser to help overcome shortages in health-care systems. Dyson has confirmed it is working to produce 15,000 ventilators for COVID-19 patients as hospitals around the world reach patient capacity. 10,000 of Dyson’s ventilators are pledged to the NHS.

Smaller businesses are also trying to help as best as they can through more modest, yet equally important incentives, such as discounts for key workers, free or reduced costs for advice such as tax, legal or HR or shopping hours dedicated to vulnerable people. The message is clear; we are all in this together.

From a reputational standpoint, whilst it is important not to lose focus on why companies are doing the good things they do, businesses that have committed time and resources to supporting the national effort deserve to see their reputations enhanced.  The aim is not to generate masses of media coverage, but to ensure reputations are reflective of the effort that companies make in the united fight against coronavirus.

Communicating good work is a vital part of the process. Ultimately, how this activity is positioned in the media is perhaps more fundamental to a brand’s reputation success than ever before, whether it is placed proactively or unintentionally. The more that we communicate stories of success and unity, the higher the pressure builds on those not willing to contribute.

It would be interesting to see how brand reputation indices such YouGov will track the positioning of those businesses who have invested time and effort in doing the right thing.  I would bet on stark differences emerging between those who behave well during the crisis and those who do not.

Consumers are very quick to point the finger and slam brands whose behaviour is not in fitting with the status quo.  Whilst the nation battles against the economic challenges imposed by the virus, there will be far worse commercial consequences for consumer businesses that fall short of their standards. The principle should be the same now as it is in ‘peacetime’, but honesty and integrity will prevail.