Covid-19 is impacting nearly every sector of the economy. I live in Seattle, which was where the first case and deaths happened in the US. Companies large and small are doing their best to have employees work from home, which is easy for lots of us “knowledge workers” to do. But it’s not easy for the millions of workers in professions that require them to interact with others in person.
Almost immediately after Microsoft asked employees in the pacific northwest to work from home, they released a statement that they would continue to pay their hourly contract workers that support the massive campus of their headquarters. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer says, “We recognize the hardship that lost work can mean for hourly employees. As a result, we’ve decided that Microsoft will continue to pay all our vendor hourly service providers their regular pay during this period of reduced service needs. This is independent of whether their full services are needed. This will ensure that, in Puget Sound for example, the 4,500 hourly employees who work in our facilities will continue to receive their regular wages even if their work hours are reduced.”
Other technology brands made similar announcements, likely inspired by Microsoft’s empathetic approach. But not all brands have high market caps, with cash readily available to sustain a workforce in extraordinary times. In today’s news, it looks like major resorts in Las Vegas are closing for at least a two-week period. The cruise, airline and tourism industries are being hit particularly hard. But also, many beloved local restaurants, bars and entertainment venues are laying off staff and reducing or closing. Will these smaller, independent brands be able to recover?
As we’ve shared before, many people believe the system is not working for them. And with government leaders failing them, many are looking at brands to step up. And with leaders like Brad Smith, they’re seeing examples that are changing the expectation for how a modern, responsible brand should act.
In times of Covid-19, here are three ways to demonstrate brand leadership:
1. Do Your Best To Take Care Of Employees, Suppliers, Contractors. Not everyone can be as generous as Microsoft, Apple, Google, Twitter and Salesforce. But many businesses can do something. Over at Qantas, the CEO is no longer collecting his $23M salary for the rest of the year. Actions like that show people come before profits, and a crisis should put the spotlight on people.
2. Be Transparent In Your Employee Communications. Employee branding is becoming more important to building a strong brand. If you must do the unfortunate thing and lay off workers, prioritize having a senior person there to deliver the news. If the layoffs are temporary, make it clear there will be a pathway back.
3. Do You Need To Communicate With Your Customers? Since this crisis emerged, I’ve gotten more email than I care to receive from brands telling me about their response. Some of these were needed, like retailers I frequently visit. But some are unnecessary. I do not need to hear from my credit card company unless it is something to do with a policy change to help me during the crisis.
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Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education