The surge of appreciation for healthcare and key workers at the front line of the fight against the COVID-19 virus has become one of the precious global positives of the last few seismic months.

In the UK, one particular brand has received tremendous outpourings of thanks and love – our National Health Service, the NHS. Formed over 70 years ago, the NHS provides the majority of healthcare services in England, including primary care, in-patient care, long-term healthcare, ophthalmology and dentistry. Whilst not wishing to overlook the phenomenal contribution so many non-NHS workers are making right now, the NHS brand has become the beacon of our hopes as it has proudly been worn by its employees, unveiled on new temporary hospitals and projected onto city skylines at night.

In Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index®, a study that looks to examine the brands that consumers across the world cannot imagine living without, the NHS was number one in the UK for the first time in 2019. We don’t have to re-run that study in the UK this year – we know full well it would be the runaway winner.

Brand relevance is based on a number of distinct dimensions and, not surprisingly, inspiring purpose is one where the NHS brand surges forward. Purpose as a key factor shaping brands, to the public and employees, is not new. But COVID-19 – like any crisis – tests brands and our trust in them, demanding that purpose be more than intent – that organisations demonstrate they are truly playing their part and ultimately are on the right side of history.

A study published after the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 highlighted that organisations that had built a bank of trust with their employees fared better than others. And now in 2020, we are seeing drastic economic implications unfold again as a result of the current pandemic. We now know for a fact that trust is a critical business commodity in crisis and having a workforce that is willing to give the organisation and its leaders the benefit of the doubt is actually a concrete asset. It makes it possible to access “people power” to support employees and retain customers not just to survive, but also to enable the organisation build new growth opportunities.

At Prophet, we have been pulsing consumer sentiment on brands in recent weeks – and it is interesting to see what’s emerging as the most important to earning and/or reinforcing consumer trust in a brand during times of crisis. Seventy seven percent said that their number one consideration was that a brand “respects its employees’ needs” closely followed by the need to be “transparent about what it is doing to keep me and its employees safe.”

As with the NHS, many brands have been on display through their commitment – or otherwise in some cases – to their people in these times, in effect showcasing their employer brands. The test of that commitment is just starting as organisations consider what comes next after lockdown. As Twitter announced it will allow most employees to work from home permanently, the treatment of employees is going to be not just a test for the employer brand, but the master brand too.

What Organizations Can Take Away

So where should leaders focus now to support the immediate pressures on employer brand and reputation as well as building for the future?

  • Take stock of your employer brand and the deal at the heart of it – plan for the new normal now!
  • Deliver against the promise of your brand and your employee value proposition through the crisis by ensuring Marketing, HR and Operations are collaborating like never before.
  • Align leaders to recognise that their behaviours now are the #1 proof point for your employer brand – and therefore of trust in what the organisation stands for as an employer.
  • Proactively engage and upskill your leaders to ensure consistency of those behaviours – so they are purposeful, live your values and create the “bank of trust” that will buoy you through the crisis and create net new opportunities beyond it.

Final Thoughts

Brands, people and organisations have always been interconnected. But the pandemic has raised the stakes in terms of the responsibility we have to one another and society as a whole. There are those that can – and will – take this opportunity to accelerate their journey to becoming a better organisation for customers, employees and stakeholders.

If you need help navigating the pathway to leading with purpose contact us today.