Crisis is a catalyst to change; today’s brand resilience was not born of face masks, doorstep-clapping and the rebirth of the QR code, but of a different crisis, explains Kin + Carta Connect’s Richard Neish, introducing new research.
The financial crisis of 2008 forced an introspection that gave birth to the roots of modern brand resilience. The financial services sector was forced to address catastrophic failings in ethics, responsibility and diversity. Corporates sought ways to pivot, and learned quickly that agility required equal investment in scalable technology, customer and employee experience.
A pandemic-hardened 2020 merely highlighted who had been paying attention – those who had consciously built and matured the foundations for resilience.
This is the backdrop to Kin + Carta’s Brand Resilience Index, launched this year to measure what factors enable businesses to swim forward, rather than tread water, as we head into 2021.
Quantifying business resilience
The Index analyses four elements of resilience – agility, maturity, responsibility and humanity – within 34 FTSE 100 businesses, B-Corp certified organisations, SMEs and large enterprises, and takes into account business models, (agile) working practices, long-term purpose and balancing people, purpose and profit.
Our findings showed businesses scored highest on maturity and agility – but at the expense of humanity, in which a third of businesses showed some exposure to risk. Based on a compound score of ‘best places to work’ nominations, Glassdoor scores, gender pay gap, inclusive design, plus BAME representation at board level as equity, this is where the cracks showed most.
Yet people’s emotional connection with a brand or business is a core facet of resilience. The stronger that connection, the more likely a customer or employee is to remain loyal when times are tough. Organisations that make their customers and staff feel happy, confident and valued drive loyalty. Those that annoy, disappoint or frustrate lose out.
There are many ways a brand can embrace being human to form relevant emotional connections. These range from treating customers equally with empathy, thoughtfulness and respect, to ensuring that employees are inspired and empowered.
Roll with the punches
That said, business resilience is without doubt the full combination of measures. And in such a torrid year, it makes sense for businesses to prioritise agility.
The Index found that multi-brand businesses with advanced digital platforms, tested and attuned listening skills – as well as critical cash reserves – were significantly more effective in their attempts to pivot to serve the changing demand.
As COVID restrictions triggered a mass migration to online shopping and the adoption of digital services at warp speed, digitally minded, multi-channel retailers were best-placed to minimise exposure, and even benefit from, the commercial melting pot that was 2020.
Tesco is a case in point; it already had an infrastructure that allowed it to scale to meet demand. This enabled millions to shop online and – crucially – the grocer was also able to scale the human capital, it recruited 45,000 new employees in April 2020 to meet the surge in at-home grocery demand.
The UK furniture sector is the counterpoint: Bensons, Harveys and Oak Furnitureland were crippled by a demand vacuum and decrease in footfall, and were soon pushed into administration without putting up much fight.
For 2021 then, a focus on diversity of distribution as a key enabling factor of agility is essential when it comes to future-proofing for the next crisis.
Of the businesses that scored most highly on Maturity, three-quarters were rated in the top two tiers of ‘resilient’ or ‘robust’. Most did well on hygiene indicators of digital maturity such as cloud-enabled, flexible and connected digital platforms.
However, maturity equates to much more than infrastructure. It is the platform from which change can happen: it provides a line of communication between business and customer allowing the brand to understand what it stands for and what it has permission to do in the market. Considerations that should underpin every decision.
We found global multi-brand organisations (Unilever), and large retailers (Next), had more mature customer-listening infrastructures and broader search authority than solus-brand organisations. However, direct to consumer models have become a lifeline to many smaller brands as the physical retail opportunity has diminished. From this standpoint, being able to build relationships through personalised content at meaningful moments across the breadth of the customer journey has been more important than ever.
Maturity underpins agility – businesses can only pivot effectively if they have the tech, people, data and processes in place to turn the ship together. An ability to translate customer feedback into operational change will continue to be a clear differentiator between success and failure next year.
This pandemic is a stark reminder that economic performance is reliant on a healthy, functioning society operating within a stable environment and climate. So responsibility is a cornerstone of resilience.
Some 42 percent of brands excelled in this area for using their business as a force for good. It’s little surprise that FMCG and B Corp businesses like Innocent, Pukka Herbs, and Danone index highest against this metric.
Responsibility is becoming a key consideration for brands. Activist generations are increasing their purchasing power and Millennials are beginning to assume leadership positions within corporates.
For these audiences, brand purpose, impactful charity programmes, and the energy efficiency of the business’s digital estate dictate if it’s worthy of engaging with. As such, social and environmental responsibility will come to play a fundamental part in cultivating future business resilience.
Finding balance in uncertainty
Our challenge now is to decide what lessons we take from the past year, and how we translate these into business resilience strategies.
Agile, digitally mature multi-brand businesses operating across multiple channels, particularly those with a diversified audience, found themselves in a privileged position in this crisis. This doesn’t make them failsafe. While every organisation has differing priorities, the clear trend from the Index is the need for organisations to be more human in their approach.
Businesses that deprioritise humanity are less likely to survive the next high impact event – as we’ve seen, companies that are not empathetic are already being abandoned. Customer-centricity is no longer a nice-to-have strategic choice, it’s essential for survival.
This article first appeared in www.warc.com