• Keith Wells

Brand behaviours really matter during lockdown

81% of UK consumers think that how brands behave now, will matter to people when the crisis is over, with nearly half the nation saying this will be a long-term legacy (48%). Over ¾ of UK consumers say that how brands behave now will affect whether they personally buy them in the future.

We commissioned respondi to conduct a poll among UK consumers, in mid-May, and the results are clear. People are likely to hold brands to account long after lock down is over. 56% said they would actively choose or switch to brands they had seen behaving well. Whilst nearly half (48%) said they would avoid brands they had witnessed behaving badly or who had not stepped up to the mark to do their bit during lockdown.

So, what constitutes good behaviour from brands?

Good behaviour can best be summed up as ‘thinking of others’ and putting the common good first. Brand behaviours praised by consumers included: protecting their customers (mainly by enabling social distancing and implementing safety measures, hand sanitising etc.); adapting and coming up with new ways to deliver a good service (mainly through upping delivery services); and helping the vulnerable (with special shopping slots and delivery priority etc.).

But nearly 1 in 4 consumers (22%) praised brands for simply managing to keep going, keep open and carry on regardless to serve the nation! Juliet Strachan comments: “some brands were noted for just having closed when asked (or before!) and just keeping quiet, whilst looking after employees; brands don’t necessarily have to be at the forefront of fighting the Coronavirus to be seen as hero brands, they just have to get on with it and do their best”

Finding ways to help the NHS was also a major plus for brand behaviour, be it special deals and discounts for key NHS workers, manufacturing PPE or sanitisers, or actively directing resources to research.

Brand behaviours have clearly registered with consumers: nearly 9 in 10 could think of at least one brand or organisation spontaneously that had done their part to positively help and contribute toward the fight against COVID-19 and 85% could relay usually multiple ways in which these brands had helped.

These will be the heroes of the hour who have behaved with integrity and not exploited the crisis – and they will see the rewards when the new normal finally arrives.

Who are the hero brands?

The biggest hero sector by far is the supermarkets, who have kept the nation fed and largely done so in a manner that has kept people safe. 66% of consumers mentioned a supermarket brand or the sector as a whole: Tesco (20%), Sainsbury’s (12%), Asda (9%), Morrisons (6%), Aldi (6%) and Co-op (4%) were the highest mentioned (brand share of course playing a big part).

It is worth supermarket brands also noting however, that there has inevitably been some criticism for not acting quickly enough to put in safety and distancing systems and for delivery systems that ‘over catered’ to the vulnerable, elderly or NHS, at the expense of loyal customers – whilst hardly a particularly noble sentiment, it may be understandable at such a tough time for so many, and perceived poor service can be a niggle, so perhaps some customers need to be made to feel valued again, when this is over?

Other heroes of note: Amazon (10%) and delivery brands in general; Boots; the Post Office, and the restaurant and takeaway sector all came in for high praise. As of course did the NHS (13%) and the care sector (16%). Not everyone thinks of the NHS as ‘a brand’, but when asked spontaneously, enough want to mention it anyway when it comes to behaving well!

What about the bad behaviour?

Normally we Brits are a lot more reticent about apportioning blame or criticism in surveys. We tend to shy away from naming offenders unless they have really upset us! So, the fact that almost 7 in 10 could spontaneously think of at least one brand they thought had not behaved well (69%) is very telling and should send a warning bell to the major offenders – once you have fallen from grace, it is a long climb back up, that you may not make! And remember almost half said they would avoid buying brands who had not done the right thing.

Who are the biggest offenders?

By far the brands singled out for most criticism were Wetherspoons, Virgin and Sports Direct – 1 in 5 of UK consumers spontaneously mentioned at least one of these three brands by name (20%); and of those citing any brand as bad, just these three alone account for 30%!

Wetherspoons and Sports Direct were singled out as putting their own interests first, regardless of staff or customers; specifically, not closing outlets fast enough, trying to stay open as ‘essential’, putting particularly staff at risk; and treating staff badly, making people redundant, not protecting jobs (despite the Govt financial help and furlough scheme) and putting their businesses and profits before safety and welfare.

Airlines come in for criticism, but this was predominantly Virgin for trying to lobby for Government bailouts when others need help more; and Ryan Air for continuing to fly with packed planes – criticism being tinged with disbelief! Most of the negative sentiment was levied directly at the famously rich brand owners, Richard Branson, Tim Martin and even Victoria Beckham seen as money grabbing and selfish in their response.

The Government was heavily criticised as not acting quickly enough to stem the pandemic and then putting out confused and misleading information – and this was before the Dominic Cummings story broke, one suspects criticism will have greatly increased since.

In essence, brands are supposed to serve, provide good service and products and to contribute to the economy. Almost 7 in 10 could think of brands that are seen to have failed in this respect, predominantly due to three main areas:

- Not doing enough to protect jobs and avoid making people redundant

- Lobbying for bailouts – me first!

- And generally trying to exploit the crisis for their own gain – putting profit before people.

Such behaviours will be remembered and when consumer choice can be exercised more freely, there will be consequences. Of course, not all consumers who say they will buy good brands and avoid bad, will follow through, but the magnitude of good and bad sentiment is such the lasting impact is likely to be very substantial. If just 1% of your customers defect, what will that cost your bottom line?

Those perceived to have acted with integrity, demonstrated generosity, put people first (staff and customers), been good corporate citizens and played their part, will reap the benefits.

But the majority of brands – carrying on regardless to serve the nation (and in doing so protect jobs and the economy) will also have much greater resilience when the crisis is over.

It is worth remembering, no one saw this coming. No brand strategy or direction documents had Coronavirus and worldwide lockdown in their what-if scenarios and planning. So, brands (owners and teams) are now acting on their instincts and showing their true colours.

How will your brand emerge from this and how will it be judged, post lockdown?

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