A Brand's Greatest Currency In a Pandemic: Empathy and Purpose
Although the term ‘unprecedented’ is now seemingly overused, there seems to be no better term to describe the sheer disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the world. Just take a look at the numbers. To date, there have been 360,298 global deaths, with over 5 million infections worldwide. Moreover, global economies, which showed promising growth across almost all the major territories, have been brought to their knees by this virus. The impact economically has been so big, that recent findings by the University of Cambridge noted that the global economy could be set back by a harrowing $82 trillion in damages related to the pandemic over the next five years.
In the US, gross domestic product decreased by 4.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 with over 30 million jobless claims according to data collected by the US Department of Labor. It is clear, the US and the world is in a moment of uncharted waters. Despite a $2.2 trillion capital injection into businesses and citizens’ pockets at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, there is fear that the stimulus may not be enough to sustain the damage. In mid-May, House Democrats passed a fourth stimulus package—this time to the tune of $3 trillion. But, many political leaders and analysts are convinced that it may not go through.
With the government’s ability to soften the blow of the coronavirus pandemic and an economic recession fading away, this presents a unique opportunity for brands and corporations to earn their stripes and build brand loyalty by investing long term in connecting with American consumers through empathy and purpose. Leading the empathetic and purpose-driven charge has undoubtedly been PepsiCo. Through their philanthropic arm, The PepsiCo Foundation, over $50 million has been invested to help people and communities impacted by the pandemic—including providing funds for protective gear, testing and screening services, and donating over 50 million meals to food banks and global partners supporting at-risk communities. PepsiCo uses its brand reach to ease the burden on communities across the US through donations, technology, and entertainment. With a history of bringing people together through music, PepsiCo has also been providing a sense of escapism and entertainment during the stay-at-home period through supporting Altisimo Live!, a live stream festival supporting the Farmworkers' Pandemic Relief Fund, and John Krasinksi’s “Some Good News” with a $3 million donation. PepsiCo also partnered with Global Citizen on their One World Together At Home Event, which raised nearly $128 million for COVID-19. Most recently, PepsiCo committed $7 million to provide medical and economic aid to Black and Latino communities hit hardest by COVID-19.
So, what can other brands learn from PepsiCo? Well, in a new study released by the brand titled, The Empathy Imperative: Consumer Perceptions On Brand Empathy Through a Pandemic, the organization shed light into the importance of why they and other brands need to be practicing empathy and purpose if they have any chance at winning the hearts, loyalty, and brand dollars of consumers in America post-COVID-19. The data suggested that companies will need to not only evolve their consumer-facing communications around empathy but also their support for workers, other businesses, and the community at large to build long term brand loyalty post-COVID-19.
“Empathy has been important to our business as a whole for a while now. Since stepping into my CMO role years ago, we’ve been focused on making more data-informed marketing decisions and we have put a lot of resources against measuring our marketing spend in real-time and building our first-party data,” said Greg Lyons, CMO of PepsiCo Beverages North America. “With this push, I was worried that our brands’ relationship with consumers might become more transactional in nature, so an important layer has always been ensuring we don’t lose humanity to the data. It’s critical to understand the people beyond the data point and to have our brands build deep, meaningful relationships with their consumers.”
The study found that four in five respondents believe empathy has become more important in light of the public health crisis. Prior to the pandemic, 43 per cent of Americans described the nation as empathetic, but that figure has since risen seven percentage points. Nearly all (94 per cent) of Americans say that empathy is important, generally, while over half (56 per cent) of those surveyed said that brands using their marketing to address the pandemic is an act of empathy. The top five ways PepsiCo found consumers asking for brands to be empathetically included: treating people with respect (52 per cent), treating people like human beings (50 per cent), listening to people (43 per cent), caring about people (41 per cent) and acknowledging when the brand is wrong (37 per cent).
“The companies and brands which will emerge the strongest from this are the ones who are spending time and energy helping their employees, their consumers, and the communities in which they operate,” explained Lyons. “The findings of this study can be a reminder to marketers around the world to invest in understanding your consumers better than ever, to be very clear what your brand stands for, and to authentically look for ways for your brand to make people’s lives better.”