How to ensure your brand has purpose in crisis

Marketing one’s business in a typical business environment is a practice that is expected, commonly accepted, and even welcomed – when the messaging is relevant.  When a brand’s message feels too aggressive or self-serving, consumers usually vote with their feet (and their wallets) by not giving these businesses their time or money. Only when a brand is blatantly inappropriate or inauthentic will it be called out or shunned by consumers. Most brands know these “rules” and abide by them.

Not so in a crisis – and certainly not so in a global pandemic with foundational health AND economic challenges unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed. Suddenly, brands are seen as tone deaf if they are not entirely retooling how they do business – both internally (especially if they have workers who physically convene) and externally (what and how they message in the market.) What is a brand to do?

Adjust all efforts, but do not change who you are. Staying authentic to one’s brand promise is crucial during times of crisis. Actively living and breathing the organization’s mission, vision and values are key to keeping that brand promise. These elements act as a “North Star” for leaders and employees, especially during crisis. These elements, if authentically operationalized, bring organizations together and provide the guidance for the decisions that need to be made, and for the emotional support employees and customers need.

A great example of a brand and business that has done just this is WTOP. WTOP News is a leading 24/7/365 all-news outlet in the Washington, D.C. area. An all-news brand since 1969, WTOP is a mainstay that people in the region have grown up with and there is truly a brand heritage and affinity with the “locals.” My firm Noetic has had the distinct pleasure of working with WTOP, and we are truly impressed with their proactive leadership and culture.

When Covid-19 became critical in the DC area, WTOP’s leadership, like many other companies, were faced with questions they had never dealt with before – how do we keep our employees safe, how do we operate effectively when the world, and news, is changing by the minute, and how do we message about our brand in an appropriate and welcome way during a COVID environment?

Joel Oxley and Julia Ziegler put safety as the top priority. Employees moved to home offices – with only 10% staff working in the building, at safe distance, at any given time. As one of the only businesses deemed essential in their office building, WTOP worked tirelessly to reorganize operations and comply with safety requirements. They deliver updated news around the clock, with this skeletal staff in-office and all other team members working from their home studios, many reporting live from their homes.

WTOP’s brand promise is to “never miss a moment.” This promise has been taken very seriously over the years and is evermore true in this crisis. They have gone further to extend this brand promise during the crisis by supporting their advertisers and local businesses with Community Callouts. These callouts allow businesses in the region to deliver complimentary messages on what they’re doing and how they can help. Twice per day, they are also running a Frontline Heroes campaign recognizing essential employees and emergency responders nominated by the community for their efforts during the crisis.

A company’s vision, mission, and values act not only as a guide for decision-making, but they also provide strength, support and cohesiveness for a brand and the employees who represent it. As your brands finds its way in these rough waters, remember WTOP as a shining example of how to adjust and extend how you work, while staying true to who you are and have always been.