COVID-19 and your brand: putting purpose first

April 9, 2020


“What’s our role in this?”

It’s a question people always reflect on during a crisis, as they instinctively seek out ways to pitch in. We saw it in how Americans contributed to the war effort during WWII. We saw it in the way people rushed out to give blood after 9/11. We all want to find some way to contribute, to help, to give back. It’s true for citizens. And it’s true for companies, too.

Right now, we’re all seeking a sense of purpose, and not just from ourselves. We seek it in those around us, including the brands we use.

More than ever, brands must be driven by purpose.

When your customers look to you right now, what they really want to see is your sense of purpose shining through. What will you show them? For brands not in the hand sanitizer or face mask businesses, this can be a tricky question.

We believe the answer may be closer than your think. You just have to look in the right places.

Start with your mission.

Sandwich brand Jersey Mike’s has donated millions of sandwiches since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. One look at their culture and you can tell that this was a no-brainer for them. “Giving at Jersey Mike’s is as much a part of our heritage as oil and vinegar,” they communicate on their website. Ironically, March is Jersey Mike’s annual Month of Giving. This year, they’re living up to this spirit of giving like never before.

Longtime Slingshot client UT Southwestern is another wonderful example of this. Their mission of “promoting health and a healthy society” through education, discovery, and healing provides clear guidance for their role right now. Already known as a national leader in cutting-edge healthcare, the team at UT Southwestern has been working overtime to provide reliable, up-to-date information to the people of North Texas.

Every brand has a purpose.

Sure, it’s easy for a healthcare brand to tap into its purpose right now. But what if you’re not a recognized resource for health-related information? Be creative.

Jersey Mike’s is not alone in the dining category when it comes to embracing the moment to give back. Restaurant brands large and small have been coming to the rescue, donating meals to hospital staff and other workers deemed essential. This includes millions of pizzas from Dominos, burritos from Chipotle, and chicken boxes from KFC. Store owners of Slingshot client Dickey’s Barbecue Pit have also been getting in on the action, providing free meals to police and firefighters.

Dickeys Gives Back

Free sandwiches and other ways the folks at Dickey's Barbecue Pit are adding purpose to their brand.

Coca-Cola, meanwhile, has found a different way to engage and contribute. The global beverage giant recognized its unique ability to reach millions through its social media channels, and opted to show purpose by donating those channels to organizations that could best use them to support their communities. The American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Clubs, Feeding America, and the Salvation Army have all participated.

The bottom line is that any brand, large or small, can find a sense of purpose right now. Just look at every asset at your disposal to determine what you have to give.

More than ever, it’s about fulfilling needs.

For many brands, finding purpose can be as simple as providing what you always have with a new layer of safety. Contactless operations, expanded online services, and other at-home options are all the rage. But that’s just scratching the surface.

Mattel was quick to recognize how they could help families adjust to new normal. The toymaker just rolled out the Mattel Playroom, an online resource full of tips, advice, and activities to keep kids and parents alike engaged and having fun while stuck at home.

eBay is another great example. The e-commerce giant has opened up its platform for brick and mortar businesses, allowing them to set up and run e-stores for free with no transaction fees. They’ve also closely monitored the sale of needed materials in the fight against COVID-19, pushing back on price gouging, and prohibiting the sale of some items entirely.

In other cases, the greatest thing a brand might provide is relief. We’ve previously discussed how carmakers have promoted flexible payment plans for people worried about their finances. Many mortgage lenders have followed suit and can expect extraordinary goodwill from customers whom they proactively help with managing payments. On the other hand, those who turn a blind eye to customer needs may be met with damaging levels of negative attention. A great reminder that abandoning purpose for the sake of short-term gain has a real cost.

Great purpose comes from great leadership.

There’s no better way for an organization to convey leadership in hard times than through the voices of its leaders. CEOs can serve as the most credible sources of information for exactly what a company is doing. Business leaders receiving high marks for their purpose-driven personal touch during the COVID-19 crisis include Doug McMillon of Walmart, Ford’s William Clay Ford, Jr., and Alfred Kelly of Visa.

These are voices people want to hear. According to TBWA’s Livebosses, engagement rates on LinkedIn are up 90% since the start of the crisis for posts coming directly from CEOs. It’s no wonder, as LinkedIn is an ideal channel for business leaders to communicate directly with employees and their broader industries.

Does your leadership have a message worth spreading right now? Consider LinkedIn as a great way to get it out there.

Speaking of people, be purposeful in how you take care of yours.

At Slingshot, we've long preached the importance of branding that resonates as much with internal audiences as it does with customers. During these challenging times, it's your purpose that will need to make that connection. But know that in some cases, it's the action behind that purpose that matters most to employees, and ultimately, the customers they serve on your behalf.

Some of the most negative press in recent weeks has involved how big brands have treated their employees. Airlines have taken flack for not letting flight crews wear protective gear. McDonald’s store employees have raised the alarm over inflexible working conditions as they try to juggle life in the new normal. And while Amazon may be an invaluable resource to so many of us stuck at home, it’s the way they've handled their people that’s drawn the most attention and scorn.

All of these brands have learned the hard way that it's impossible to convey a strong sense of purpose when the very people delivering that purpose are being neglected. If your people are still working, this is the time to salute them and celebrate them. And if they’re in harms way, show how you're working to take care of them.


If there’s an upside to this crisis, it’s how it has brought out the humanity in all corners of society, and brands are no exception. We’ve been reminded that behind every brand are people just like us. And people crave purpose.

As you look inward towards your brand’s purpose and ask what’s our role in this, never forget that the time will soon come when your customers will be looking at you, asking a different question:

“What did you do to help?”

It’s a great question. Let’s all make sure we have great answers.

Our purpose at Slingshot is to help our clients through good times and bad. So let us know what we can do for you.