Pandemic sustainability – building the brands of tomorrow
Sustainability has long been a central theme in our industry. I don’t think I ever come across a brand these days who does not address sustainability – I would say most try to differentiate themselves on it as well. Broadly we have to two categories: environmental sustainability and social sustainability. The first has to do with the planet. The second with humans – as employees and production staff, as well as fellow human beings. Now we need to add a third concept – Pandemic sustainability.
Pandemics are, if we think about it, about both environment and people. It puts new demands on companies. Regardless of a brands’ ambition, from 2020 no-one can ignore it altogether. Let me explain in the form of a checklist for your company.
1. Are you actually actively fighting this (or the next) pandemic? Are you actively making things for medical professionals for instance? Many transformed themselves: from making aircraft engines to building ventilators, from making trench coats to making face masks. It’s pretty simple – if you directly help press down the famous curve, you directly prevent the spread of infection or protect people, then you are in this «category 1». Then you know what you can focus on in a pandemic without shyness or hesitation.
«Since you are going with your core business through the pandemic, there is nothing to fear by telling everyone what you contribute. Everyone loves a doer, so just do it.
2. If your business is, however, an indirect pandemic fighter, it is a little more difficult. Anyone who helps people stay at home, work from home, exercise caution through their offer can fit here. You can interpret it quite freely but the main question – does this help us get through in a pandemic? My family runs a small flower shop that offers home delivery of flowers, plants, candles and other nice things for the home to people who cannot or do not want to venture out. Who knows if we somehow, by doing this, helped some people to not get infected? Yet – we do not place as pandemic fighters. That would be presumptuous. But we make people a bit happier. Here, don’t talk much about it, but don’t be afraid to mention Covid19 if necessary (as with our flower buds) if you’re category 2.
3. If your business does not fit in category 1 or 2, you are still of importance. Even if you «just» maintain society and do your important stuff, you are not a pandemic fighter. This is where, of course, most companies are. «We make sure everyone gets X during the pandemic» may sound good, but everyone gets it. I have many times poured love over my local grocery store during the pandemic because there are lots of food there every day. It is like magic! But if they boasted about it, the effect would be quite the opposite.
At Polygiene, our roots go back to our foundation in the SARS crisis, so we very rapidly turned ourselves into a category 1 with the ViralOff® launch. And of course, the brands who came to us and partnered around ViralOff rapidly put themselves into category 1 as well. This has tremendous commercial value for these brand partners, as the products sell in the short term but also build their brand long term. And what is good for the consumer is good for our partners and that is good for us too. But enough about us, back on topic!
After this categorization, you should address two long-term questions in your company:
1. Map and plan.
You have probably certified your environmental sustainability work and perhaps also on your reputation as a company and employer. This is how you will have to work with pandemic sustainability as well. How do your activities affect future pandemics in different ways?
- Does the manufacturing, distribution and sales of your products affect the spread of viruses and bacteria? You don’t have to make canned bat soup for this to be the case. Clothes tried on by a person in a changing room, which is then used by another person ten minutes later, is a risk. Or, think about anything that requires manual touching and handling. The more you think about it, from the moment you sell to the consumer, tracking all the way back to your factories and supply chain, the more you will find. No company wants to be the company that set off the next pandemic. Make sure it is not yours!
- How do you prevent the internal spread at the company, in terms of routines, working methods etc, in both normal times and when you activate your crisis mode (next time)?
2. How do you prevent future spread in society in general? Both in «normal» and in crisis mode.
- How will you identify the next pandemic? What determines when you say “OK, here is the next Covid”? What does that routine look like? I can promise you that those who changed fast this time, are big winners or at least big survivors – a couple of weeks of speed makes a difference.
- What is your company/brand doing in the next pandemic? What will you sell, do, say?
- Also, consider other proactive planning scenarios. Are you going to seek collaborations, make plans with actors other than the usual ones? If you are hurting right now, maybe invest some time in building for the future.
Important as this is, don’t rush so hard on the pandemic sustainability in front of you that you forget that the other aspects of sustainability are important too. A ViralOff treated garment needs to skip about one wash in three to be a better deal for the environment than an untreated garment. We think one can easily insist that you skip two out of three. This way it is not just about the ViralOff effect on viruses, but it also means preserving the environment and the garment.
Finally, we should consider what this experience has done with consumer psychology. Almost all countries were affected. Some were hit hard, others managed to minimize losses by determined action. It seems every country has been very aware that actions as well as non-actions have consequences. That professionalism really saves lives, and mistakes cost lives. I think this will carry over to brands as well: people will be more critical of lofty and dreamy claims of sustainability, they will want to see professionalism, they want to see your actions, they want to see results. Everyone loves a doer.
Be that brand.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mats Georgson – CMO at Polygiene. Georgson has a PhD in Marketing Communication from the University of Connecticut and has been a (part-time) assistant professor at the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at the Stockholm University for 10 years. In his previous career he had a position as Global Brand Director for Sony Ericsson and was responsible for the brand project Bluetooth and Sony Ericsson’s brand strategy. He is also co-author of the leading academic textbook for branding: Strategic Brand Management: A European Perspective (Keller, Apéria, Georgson) and has run a successful branding consulting company since 2003. He is a popular public speaker on the subject of branding in different segments and industries.
Sustainability has long been a central theme in our industry
Consider other proactive planning scenarios. Are you going to seek collaborations, make plans with actors other than the usual ones? If you are hurting right now, maybe invest some time in building for the future