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Bradenton Means Business: Branding in the Age of COVID-19

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Life and business won’t be the same for a longtime – if ever. We’re experiencing change at a rate we’re not used to. The lines have been blurred between people and business. We’re coming to realize we don’t have all the answers and it feels scary.

While no one can predict what lies ahead, one thing is certain – we live in a VUCA world. VUCA is an acronym that stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. The term surfaced after the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990’s. It reflects the idea that we’re no longer up against a single, known enemy but could be threatened by various, quick-moving forces that appear and disappear before we can organize our own response.

For brands, VUCA represents the unknown. The threats you’re aware of but don’t expect to happen and the threats you have no concept of, but still exist.

Here are three strategies to help your brand navigate a VUCA world.

Focus on your purpose

A clear purpose provides stability. In times of change, purpose gives your team motivation and consistency. It’s no longer a ‘nice to have’ – it’s become essential for sustainable long-term growth.

However, you can’t just throw money at a charity or attach yourself to a social cause and assume you’ve found it. Your purpose and your cause are not the same thing.

Purpose is why your business exists beyond making money. It must be something that permeates everything you do. It should hold everyone accountable for their behavior and choices. Purpose takes courage. It requires you to make a stand, speak up, and take action.

A perennial example of this is Patagonia. They got their start when founder, Yvon Chouinard, began making climbing equipment to protect rock faces from the damage of traditional gear. Because Chouinard is highly environmentally conscious, that ethos continued into the clothing they became known for. Today, Patagonia is still on a mission to protect the environment through their activism and new line of provisions. Their purpose hasn’t changed, just the way they express it.  

Build trust through core values

Your surroundings may be in flux – along with your tactics – but at the core you’re the same. Brand values are how you behave regardless of the circumstances. They represent the character of leadership and your culture. They play into your strengths and empower employees to take action the moment they sense a need or opportunity.

When Motorworks Brewing decided to stop production to make and distribute hand sanitizer, it was a no-brainer. That’s because one of Motorworks’ core values is, “stay involved and make a difference with the community.” They’re also the ones who helped a Minnesota woman reunite with her lost dog of ten years.

Just like a person, your brand’s core values dictate how you respond under pressure. What will you do? What will you say – and not say – to employees and customers? How will it be distinct to you and your voice? Consistent, appropriate, and authentic behavior builds trust. If your core values do not provide the guidance your brand needs – or you haven’t created them at all – now’s the time to clarify what you stand for.

“Just like a person, your brand’s core values dictate how you respond under pressure.”

Humanize your communication

Customers are moving rapidly from boredom and fear, to loneliness and feeling lost. Where we once found ourselves at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we’ve now plummeted to the bottom – worried about our safety and security. Brands are struggling with how to be more human than transactional.

You need to continue to communicate – especially to those that are most loyal. But if your message doesn’t shift with customer’s want and needs, then you risk becoming irrelevant – and even insensitive. To put people first and not come off as opportunistic, you must review your relevant differentiated benefits. Get clear on the aspects of your business or product that create real value for people – especially in this uncertain time. Then build your communications around this position.

Before you create your next post or email blast, ask yourself these questions.

  1. What are my customers going through? What’s their current reality?
  2. What do they need right now? How do we fit into their lives at this moment?
  3. Is what I’m about to offer more about us or more about them?

Today, brands must see and respond in new ways on a daily basis. A VUCA world means you can’t do what you’ve always done or be tone deaf to reality. You need new approaches, skills, and behaviors to adapt.

Jason Garvale is a purpose-focused brand consultant who believes in business as a force for good. He works with mission-driven entrepreneurs and small businesses in education, health and wellness, and non-profits to help clarify their strategy and better connect with customers. Based in Sarasota, Florida, Jason escapes the heat by section hiking the Appalachian Trail each year.

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