THE TRUE TEST OF A brand is when it is enveloped by a crisis. It is at that time the marketing playbook is abandoned for real-time solutions wrapped in empathy and trust. The testing times we live in today are no different. Brands have had to suffer both revenue and respect loss, but there are some who have quickly altered their core to remain relevant and caring. Whilst there are others who have continued to follow their beliefs, thereby completely abandoning what they stand for and how they would like consumers to perceive them.
The Covid-19 situation is different from any other that we have seen in India and across the world. It has brought businesses and general human life to a grinding halt with the clouds of death hanging over it. It has, in India, unleashed a lockdown and I for one believe that a lockdown was and will remain essential in the battle against this virus. But then, one has not just seen the bravery of many professions like the doctors, nurses, policemen and women but also of brands that have waded in with their own solutions or at least attempted to show they care.
To my mind, many brands in India have risen to the challenge with both sincerity and alacrity: the first one that comes to mind is Reliance Industries who, as is their wont, have established India’s first dedicated Covid-19 hospital in Mumbai in record time. Creating infrastructure of the kind that Reliance has done is far more valuable to a nation than monetary donations. In addition, Reliance very wisely recognised that in a WFH (Work from Home) situation, it was critical for them to expand the usage bandwidth of broadband, which they did with the offerings from Jio at no extra charge.
Equally heart-warming is the work that the Taj Group of Hotels has done. By providing more than 50,000 free meals every day from their kitchens to doctors and nurses who are working tirelessly, in sometimes appalling conditions, they have managed to be true to their core, which essentially is caring for people. But this time, that care has manifested itself for people who are caring for humanity at large, and that too outside the realm of their hotels.
While on the subject of food, what is truly impressive is the outreach of Spencer’s, which is India’s oldest branded grocery chain (but has moved onto much more since), and the manner in which they have been serving customers through this crisis. What is interesting is that Spencer’s was the first (and only) branded grocer and provisions provider to also offer free meals to the less privileged in the community. Something that their customers will remember long after the lockdown is over.
There are many hospital chains who have offered assistance and succour to those in desperate need of it, but the one name that comes to mind is Fortis Healthcare and how it has re-invented itself in this crisis, by being the first to set up isolation wards in many of their hospitals as also by using social media to assist the communication amplification for the general public.
In the world of real estate, which has been terribly battered by the virus and its aftermath, DLF has again shown pioneering zeal by offering a three-month salary advance to all employees, including their contracted workers, just when everyone is talking about salary cuts and deferments, not to mention redundancies.
There have also been brands that have suffered grievously but have still played a tremendous role in keeping spirits up. One such example is what the GMR Group has done with its Delhi Airport brand. If you examine their social media outreach, you will observe that this is a brand that cares deeply even though it has been inflicted a body blow with all flights cancelled. Keeping the flag flying in times of crisis takes a lot of courage.
There are several NGOs and trade associations that too have gone beyond the call of duty. I have seen with joy the quality work that has been done by the National Restaurant Association of India in setting up community kitchens, as also the stellar work from organisations like Rasoi India, not to mention gurdwaras and temples that have also set up kitchens to feed the hungry.
What is also commendable is the role that many foundations and trusts have been playing. The Tata Trusts and the Azim Premji Foundation have provided inspirational leadership by committing the kind of monies they have. As also thousands, if not millions, of Indians have shown by dipping into their wallets and giving generously, be it to specific causes or to the PM-Cares Fund.
It is at times such as these that people will look back and reflect on the brands that actually went that extra mile. Brands that did not only do what they were supposed to do, but actually did what their heart told them to.
Empathy is not measurable and brands that have (and will) exuded this are the ones that will triumph long after this nightmare is behind us.
What has also been evident in all of these days is that, no matter how big or small the size of the brand, what really counts is the size of the heart, and I am glad that we in India today have such large-hearted brands.