As the reality of the severity of the coronavirus outbreak hit our nation, brands at first appeared to back off, taking a more cautious and wait-and-see approach to communications. Social media posts tapered off, earned media pitches came to a halt and campaigns were put on hold. That was only a few weeks ago, but if feels like a lifetime. Now, brands aren’t holding back, whether that’s ramping up with philanthropic efforts or leveraging their owned assets and media channels to show how they’re responding. At the core of their initiatives: their purpose.

Brand purpose aligns a company with a role in contributing to a better world, allowing the company to aspire to a higher standard than a brand mission or positioning. It’s the ultimate “why” behind the brand, the higher order objective and obligation to be a good corporate citizen. Purpose can be defined through three facets:

The rational: what you do.

The emotional: why you do it.

Why it matters: its importance on the world.

There’s a common question being asked amidst these unpredictable and volatile times: what is the relevance of brand purpose today? Arguably, we can say it’s never related more to what’s currently taking place in our world. Purpose anchors brand communications and its behavior. If our purpose is “to make the world better,” it’s critical to go back to that fundamental belief to guide how brands should be behaving during these times.

The other question that emerges is: what is the social contract you as a brand will make with society and the world at large that will define your legacy? That’s ever more relevant today. Conversely, if you don’t find that social contract, what will your legacy be? Today, that social contract has changed and is aligned to society’s immediate cause – ‘to minimize death and suffering’ caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A brand’s social contract needs to align with that cause, authentically and sustainably.

Now, brands are reacting. We’re seeing brands pivot to support that social contract, evolving and making an impact. And across the globe, we are seeing that in three broad areas:

1. Impact through real time practical intervention

Guiding question: how can you help stop or slow the epidemic spread?

Brands are coming together to focus on how they can proactively join the ambition to minimize the spread and impact of COVID-19. We see this across Europe and North America predominantly with distillers and breweries shifting their production facilities to produce essential items like hand sanitizer. In China, brands and companies built temporary manufacturing plants outside their core activity to produce masks or ventilators. And we expect to see more companies rising to the challenge and supporting front line efforts.

2. Supporting the larger cause delivered through your core business activity

Guiding question: how can you help minimize the damage of the pandemic?

While some brands may not have the tools or resources to redirect operations, they can play a supporting role and mobilize their resources to support the mission. Whether it’s leveraging media spend to help governments communicate their message like Coca-Cola did with a message about social distancing in one of the most crowded places on Earth, Times Square, or a fast-casual restaurant offering free meals to children who otherwise would have received them in school, brands are contributing in ways that tap into their resources creatively.

3. Community support across core business activity + beyond

Guiding question: how can you support people in need?

Brands are making an impact in communities. There is a collective “we’re all in this together” mindset, and a common objective we’re trying to achieve. Among seemingly endless other questions that change daily, people are wondering how to stay healthy, how to navigate daily tasks safely, and how to feed their families while they’re home. In China, must like North America, supermarkets are national brands that operate in communities. We saw resources as essential roles change and reallocate against need in China. Other brands are offering free content to support communities with social distancing and quarantine – workouts at home, activities with kids, and ways to adapt to new ways of learning, living and playing.

Our recommendation for brands looking to pivot with their brand purpose: In these unpredictable times, every brand can do something to support the greater mission. It doesn’t have to be on a mass scale; local, community initiatives now will go a long way for the legacy of the future. As a brand, lean on your reimagined brand purpose to guide your decision-making. While products can be made in factories, brands are made in the hearts of their customers.

Graphic - 5 learnings and trends for brands as they pivot with their purpose: 1. Surface your expertise 2. Be active. Don’t just say, do 3. Be prepared to pivot to find your relevance 4. Think broadly about your resources 5. Trust is built (and re-built) in brands through action