What COVID-19 has taught us about authenticity - Campbell Squared
Authenticity is the gold standard of leadership – but it’s increasingly relevant for businesses and organisations too. At this profound time in history, we can reflect and take time to develop and share our core values.
Authenticity, communications, brand values, crisis communications, responding to COVID-19 as a business, core values
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What COVID-19 has taught us about authenticity

In recent weeks we’ve observed world leaders deliver difficult messages to communities across the globe as we ride the shockwaves of COVID-19. At the same time, with time to reflect and scroll our social media feeds, we’ve watched organisations respond, adapt and evolve to life amid this devastating pandemic.

Communicating through the crisis has been challenging for everyone in a range of ways. As organisations, what we say and how we act now will stick with us. In the early days and weeks, when we were talking about washing our hands as if we’d never done it before, the alcohol industry found itself a niche in the booming demand for hand sanitiser.

Some saw it as a chance for survival, selling bottles for $20 a pop, or free with a purchase. Others saw it as an opportunity to be part of a common endeavour. Those few, often the smallest businesses, donated their entire supply to schools and non-profits. Which company would you like to buy your gin from?

As customers, first we know, then we like, then we trust. It’s this last stage that’s most difficult to cultivate and the easiest to destroy. It’s no longer enough to write and say the words that describe what you do or sell. Businesses must share authentic brand stories that are built on core values. It is becoming increasingly important that we speak at a human level, about the things we do.

Over the past decade artisanal brands have thrived as climate change issues have impacted businesses globally. In the consumer world sustainability became all about making sustainable choices and it was an easy sell. As consumers we didn’t have to change our behaviour, just our shopping habits. But as the effects of climate change have marched on, the focus has shifted to genuine sustainability – this is one way organisations can demonstrate their brand values authentically. But it only works if it’s true.

In 2019, Sweden-based think tank Doconomy launched a banking service ‘with a conscience’ in collaboration with the UN Climate Change Secretariat and Mastercard. Do Black is the world’s first credit card with a carbon limit. It will eventually cut you off from spending, not because you’ve reached a financial limit but because your purchases have tipped you over your carbon limit for the year. Brand values are front and centre, within the product.

But achieving an authentic position is a little less straight forward. Tech company Buffer pitches itself as being dedicated to transparency, they live this by publishing employee salaries, emails and company financials, opening the door to their business virtually, to show they have nothing to hide.

We all understand that business is business, but your brand is much more – is it sustainable, local, carbon neutral (or positive!), equal, health conscious, or kind?

But, who cares?

Millennials do. People born between the 1980s and early 2000s are living their lives differently – choosing to travel and work for themselves, marrying later (if at all) and putting off large purchases (homes and cars etc) in place of experiences. They are more health conscious and environmentally aware of any generation, one of the most powerful consumer groups in the world, and your future (or current) workforce. They also want to understand and connect with the brands they choose to support and the ones they work for. Brand values are a key part of attracting talent, so think of your next recruits as a key audience you need to connect with on an authentic level.

A good brand inspires confidence, shows it is ‘in touch’, demonstrates its passion, and is consistent and enduring.

How to boost your brand values

  • Do some good! It’s hard to communicate something you’re not doing. But it also needs to relate to your business.
  • Plan how you’ll spread your news. Social media creates space for organisations to communicate brand values and be clear about their positive role on society.
  • Monitor to make sure that what you put out there is being understood in the way that you hope it would be.
  • Keep it simple. Just doing something and being true to your values – even if it’s not polished and perfect – lends itself to authenticity. No flash campaigns, it just needs to be true.