Powering Through Crisis with Purpose

The New Age consumer landscape is a din of sharp brand strategies and slick marketing campaigns. Amid this cacophony, the only voice that has the power to rise over the rest and earn attention, respect and loyalty is that of a brand with meaningful purpose. 

Purpose creates a relationship with the consumer beyond the transactional and drives purchasing decisions today. 

The modern generation of conscientious consumers wants their brands to embody a meaningful ethos and make a difference. They are drawn towards brands that stand for a purpose bigger than the products they offer. In fact, the WE Brands in Motion study in 2019 revealed that brands can no longer survive by being faceless entities that provide solutions through products and services and stay immune to issues close to their customers.

This is even more true in times of crisis. With the COVID-19 outbreak upending business and industry globally, it has become imperative for brands to communicate and lead with values and purpose that resonate with humanity and empathy. 

The second edition of PR LAB, hosted jointly by Avian WE and Reputation Today, therefore, put the spotlight on the Future of Purpose in Reputation Building, with Ashmita Sethi, President and Country Head of Pratt & Whitney, leading the dialogue. 

Having led communications for iconic global companies like Rolls-Royce and Boeing, Sethi’s journey has seen her closely study, define and articulate the ethos of the brands she represented to build a strong connect with stakeholders. She also played a key role in shaping customer perception. She recalls the efforts that went into transforming the common consumer association of Rolls-Royce as a luxury car to a leading aircraft engine manufacturer and power systems company.

For a successful communicator, value-driven communications will always first demand gaining a thorough understanding of the business dynamics, operations, and investment logic, and ultimately, the business purpose.  

The Power of Purpose in Tough Times 

Speaking about the significance of communicating with purpose, especially during challenging times such as the COVID-19 situation, Sethi reiterated how brand reputation is built on its core values, its actions, past and present, and its future intentions. 

According to her, it is important for communicators to recognise that a strong business purpose holds the key to developing the reputation narrative. It is good reputation, after all, that lays the foundation for increasing corporate worth and provides sustained competitive advantage. Purpose means staying the course – even when it is hard.

The real test of an organisation’s reputation comes during times of crisis. Its values and purpose that are ingrained in its cultural DNA is what empowers it to take on challenges and deliver its best to not just customers but also employees.  

Pratt & Whitney for instance, she said, has maintained that employee health and well-being are a priority while dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. The organisation is adopting a cautious approach to return to office with stringent protocols in place, even as economies the world over begin to rev up again and bring back their workforce to offices. Regular Town Hall meetings and continuous engagement have been helping the leadership address issues of concerns for employees and keep their morale up. 

Such guiding principles, she said, help strike that delicate balance between purpose and profits. 

Evolution of the Communicator’s Role  

The unprecedented circumstances created by the current global scenario has brought an opportunity for communicators to evolve in their role of contributing to brand reputation and perception. 

Sethi stressed that in such times communication leaders need to double-down on their organisation’s core values and purpose, and highlight the effectiveness of empathy and transparency over promotions, and campaigns.

The world, as we know it, is changing and people are turning to introspection in both their personal and work lives. Communications must leverage this as an opportunity to strengthen the emotional connect with stakeholders and cement relationships and loyalties. 

The crisis has also, to an extent, brought internal communication to the fore. 

Several companies will reorient their business strategies to adapt to the new normal. This will need to be communicated to employees with both clarity and discretion. Employee engagement will be key. This is where communicators can use their power as influencers to share innovative ideas with the leadership and incorporate empathy with business sense to drive messaging. Companies that survive this crisis will come out stronger if they are the ones that conveyed the right message at the right time and in the right manner to their stakeholders.

Customer Commitment to Purpose 

On being asked how a brand’s commitment to purpose is also, to a certain extent, correlated to a customer’s commitment to purpose, Sethi shared that it can be a two-way relationship of appreciation, where organisations value customers and their commitment to purpose as much as customers value purpose-driven partners. For instance, it might be beneficial to connect with the customers and bring them in to share and communicate their perspectives and experiences to teams and employees. This can help bolster a sense of shared reality and strengthen partnerships that could be a positive to enterprise growth and success.

In Conclusion 

The socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has set in motion changes that no one was prepared for. It has triggered a rethink on values and principles that can redefine the future of businesses and, with it, the future of purpose. In order to navigate this altered reality, communications will be a vital agent of change – one that can redefine how businesses build respect, reliability and revenue against all odds.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Nitin Mantri
Nitin Mantri
Group CEO, Avian WE
President, International Communications Consultancy Organization (ICCO)

Nitin is also a member of the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA)’s Global Advisory Board and Co-Chair of PRCA Asia Pacific and PRCA Ethics Council.

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