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Indoor Insights : Geoff from Base NYC on the do’s and don’ts of brand communication during a pandemic.

Discover the Base Partners' latest thoughts about the future of branding, design, digital, and the creative process in these unusual times. We'll be publishing their opinions every few days. Stay tuned. Stay home.

What do you think are some key "rules" brands should follow during the COVID-19 crisis?
Here would be my list. Some of these to me should be self-evident...
1. Give first.
2. Don't mix crisis and commerce.
3. Act with integrity.
4. Fall back on your brand values.
5. Speak the truth.

Can you tell me more about what you mean by “Give First”?
TechStars’ mantra of "Give first" has never resonated more than now. Billionaire investor Leon Cooperman said it best, "Those who can afford to give now should give generously." This holds true for brands, too. Take for example luxury linens manufacturer Matouk (full disclosure... they are a Base client). The fact that the CEO, George Matouk, immediately acted by transforming his factory into a manufacturer of face masks to donate to facilities in need is a prime example of this generous spirit. I'm hearing about acts like this daily: a distillery in Red Hook making hand sanitizer, a supplier of uniforms to major leagues sports teams making hospital gear for healthcare workers. When the world returns to some sense of normalcy, these acts of kindness by brands will be remembered.

And in your opinion, which brands are doing a good job in this period by not mixing "crisis" and "commerce"?

The usual suspects. Nike has done a phenomenal job taking care of its employees and customers from day one. Just like Apple, Nike closed their stores early on. As a brand, they’re being factual and helpful, issuing messages about social distancing. Next to (and very separate of this) they are offering 25% discount on their entire product line. The public is smart. They can determine which companies truly care, and conversely can understand that discounts are a result of the difficult period we’re in.

By contrast, I recently saw a brand that talked about “PeopleFirst” on their Instagram photo while simultaneously offering a product discount in the photo’s description. Although their intention is likely genuine, these actions can read "CompanyFirst." Speaking of not mixing messages, there was a very funny spoof video by Matt Buechele on Instagram that all brands should check out when considering how to communicate during this time.

“Some brands may think depicting a rosy picture demonstrates strength. We've been finding that brands which matter-of-factly state the good with the bad and ask their suppliers for help are the ones experiencing the most successful results.”
Geoff Cook

Can you talk about acting with integrity during this period?
This for me is sort of a no-brainer. For example, the other day on CNBC, the CEO of one of NYC's major real estate development firms came on air and reprimanded certain "rich" companies for not paying rent. Claiming that these firms and brands that made money in good times should be able to pay rent in bad times. Even going so far as calling out certain brands by name. He elaborated by saying that everyone is part of an "ecosystem" whereby the players were responsible for working together [and paying their share to ensure liquidity]. I.e., the brands had to pay the real estate owners, and for those who couldn't, the banks needed to step in and help out. Meanwhile, two weeks ago, this same developer sent a blanket notice to all its suppliers stating that payments would be suspended until further notice.

On a more positive note, Bloomberg Philanthropies teamed up with the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations in a consortium to save the arts. They acted fast and are offering financial support to art organizations from all walks of life. Brand-wise, in a time of crisis, Bloomberg demonstrating he was thoughtful, compassionate, and reactive demonstrated true leadership in a time it was so greatly needed, and immediately placed him in a positive light after a less than positive presidential run.

You mentioned falling back on your brand values, what do you mean?
Many of our clients are calling us, asking about how to communicate during this period of hardship. Very often, going back to basics can be the best move. Falling back onto strategic work you’ve done in the past... your brand's narrative, values, positioning in the market, personality traits, defined core customer set. Simply reviewing these will really help brands focus on what is most important and judge which actions and initiatives are most appropriate.

Speaking the truth seems somewhat obvious …
Yes and no. Some brands may think depicting a rosy picture demonstrates strength. We've been finding that brands which matter-of-factually state the good with the bad and ask their suppliers for help are the ones experiencing the most successful results. Simply put, we all realize that we are in an unprecedented moment in history, and those brands that are able to collaborate (and innovate) will be the ships that rise with the tide.