Regulations vs. Reputation

With shops having already enjoyed almost two full weeks of inviting customers back in store, Boris’ announcement in this week’s final daily briefing officially allows hotels, bars and restaurants to reopen next weekend. And so, just like that, it seems that our long-awaited return to normality is right around the corner. Having said that, it’s also clear that not everyone feels ready to rush back to their local boozer or head out for a night of fine dining just yet.

So, what’s the best way for brands to handle this? Well, comms during Covid-19 so far has certainly been a story with two sides, with some major brand successes and a few disastrous examples of what not to do… we’re looking at you, Tim Martin.

The coronavirus pandemic seemed to give the nation a heightened sense of community and moral values – which placed every brand under watchful scrutiny and pressure to do the right thing.

While some brands took the opportunity to champion the ‘Stay at Home’ safety message – such as Ikea which released a set of ‘flatpack’ instructions to make its famous Swedish meatballs from home – others showed their compassion and respect for those working on the frontline, including Pret A Manger who were quick to offer 50% discount for NHS workers, and Brewdog which used its in-house machinery to produce hand sanitiser (satirical beers mocking the ridiculous behaviour of a certain chief advisor were also appreciated).

And then there were the major flops. Some brands and big bosses made pretty clear that their money-making is much more important to them than the safety and wellbeing of their staff or the general public.

While billionaire Richard Branson did himself no favours by asking his Virgin Atlantic staff to take eight weeks unpaid leave, the travel industry and airline companies in general have been pretty poor with their coronavirus comms across the board, with confused messaging on refunds, vouchers and cancellations. But, Wetherspoons owner Tim Martin takes the biscuit with his refusal to pay staff, suggestions that his employees work at Tesco and arrogant public dispute over the government’s choice to close pubs.

The pandemic has proven that some businesses need to place more value on public opinion and changing customer needs, and make more thoughtful decisions in the face of change.

So, our advice for businesses as we ease into the new ‘normal’? Show that you care about the safety and wellbeing of your customers and employees as well as the survival of your business. Communicate clearly and often, value the consumer’s opinion and adapt for those who don’t feel quite ready to jump straight back in yet – that way you can enjoy the new regulations without sacrificing your brand reputation.

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