Staying Focused Through the WTF

Over the last four months, businesses in The Bahamas and abroad have closed, we have been asked to wear masks, physically distance, and work from home. There was also massive social disruption around the world with protests related to the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd in the United States. To top it off, the US stock market has been on a topsy-turvy ride, local businesses are figuring out how to operate safely and make a profit, and the Bahamian tourism industry is more or less hanging on by its fingernails without its two largest resorts and the closure of commercial flights from the US. (I’m looking at you, Florida!) And lastly, Kanye West announced that he planned to run for president of the United States. 

This meme from 2016 still feels oddly appropriate. See the source.

Ever since the pandemic descended upon us in March, there have been a few phrases seared into my brain: unprecedented, uncertain times and the new normal. But the phrase that makes the most sense to me right now is WTF. And there’s been a ton of WTFness lately. 

As a result, there’s a lot more clutter to get through to reach your audience. Through it all, consumers are still active and brands still need to make connections.

The question is how to communicate in a meaningful way when business operations may not be 100% and business plans may be changing? 

The way for your communications to stay focused through the WTF is to pivot to purpose.

Reminding your audience of why your brand exists and how it makes their lives better is critical at this time, going beyond typical corporate social responsibility. It’s like the beacon in the storm of stimuli. I have previously written about brands creating emotional connections with their consumers but examples of this have gone into hyperdrive with the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. We are now seeing both large and small organizations around the world take a strong stance and pivot to align their brands with a larger purpose.

Many brands in the United States have demonstrated their core values and brand purpose by aligning themselves with the zeitgeist on how their audience is thinking about issues like what community means, inclusion, and uncomfortable conversations on race. 

Is pivoting to purpose the right move?

There are a few ways to think about how companies consider whether or not to make the pivot. 

Some organizations may want to make a generic statement rather than making an actual pivot, reasoning that the brand would take a financial hit if they said nothing and conscious consumers perceived that it did not share their values. And that would be a rational position, albeit a risky one for the company. The danger is that if the efforts come across as inauthentic and exploitative, the blowback could be quite substantial.

Others may completely dismiss jumping on the bandwagon of the cause du jour because they don’t want to get involved, or may see it as a tactic that will not appeal to their target audience and will, therefore, not be of long-term value to the company. 

If social and moral principles don’t appeal to companies as sufficient reason to pivot to purpose, there is a real bottom line reason as well - it can help to make the company more successful. 

Before this season of WTFness started, Proctor and Gamble, one of the world’s largest multinational consumer goods companies, was already demonstrating its guiding principles and core values while making emotional connections to its consumers. (Sidebar: Remember the beforetimes when we ate indoors at restaurants and constant ‘Breaking News’ on CNN was the main dumpster fire? Sigh.)

The strong sales performance of the purpose-driven brands compared to other brands in its portfolio illustrates that purpose-driven brands are more successful. Not only did these brands outperform others without a clear purpose, the purpose itself was a clear differentiator in the product category. The actions of purpose-driven brands can change the nature of business because consumers start to demand more and, ultimately, society can benefit.  

If you do it, keep it real.

This is not a time to whitewash your message; consumers are smarter than that. This is a time to keep it real and to build trust. Keeping it real means that this message should reflect the actual internal values of the company and be consistent with the quality of the experience that it promises to provide.

While it is up to each organization to determine the best course of action, the point is clear. Getting through the WTFness requires having a sense of purpose, understanding your audience’s needs and values, and communicating consistently with them in a real way, even if that means acknowledging when the world feels like it's falling apart around us.

If you intend for your brand to be around for the long haul with your consumers, the key to building loyalty and engagement is that they have to feel like your brand is the real deal.

People align themselves with brands that they feel share their core values. Much in the same way we select friends that we want to spend time with, we select the brands with which we want to spend time and money. And nobody wants to spend time with a fake friend. At the end of the day, we’re all looking for the beacon in the storm. 

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