In March 2015 he went up on stage staring at the audience and as he walked towards the center of it he said, opening his hands and spreading his arms “when I was a boy the most feared disaster was to live a nuclear war.” After a slight pause he continued, “Today the world’s greatest catastrophe is a pandemic. If anything is going to kill more than ten million people in the coming decades it will be a very infectious virus, much more than a war. There will be no missiles, but microbes.” It was just five years ago years. March 2015.

Although Bill Gates predicted it, it seems that few paid attention. 

We are at the epicenter of the pandemic, and as we look back in disbelief at what Gates predicted, the coronavirus crisis is prompting brands and tech titans to show the true power of purpose.

As quarantine becomes the new normal almost everywhere in the world, a large number of brands have discovered that they have a prominent role to play in a time of crisis like this in helping society mitigate the inevitable impact.

The world is watching. 

When I am asked what brands have to do in this context, one of the things I answer is that there is no single formula for everyone. But there are things that they can all adopt:

Act as if your actions make a difference.

Be aware of the effects that your actions have.

Your actions make your beliefs true and your purpose palpable.

Developing short-term strategies is fine now, but preparing for the future is also essential.

Purposeful brands play a prominent role in every crisis. They put what they can to mitigate the problem and provide solutions using what is within their reach: services, products, media, channels, resources, communication and special care for people: teams, partners, customers, suppliers, society in general.

With the coronavirus establishing itself as conjunctural, but without being sure if the conjuncture will be short, medium or long term, society is just at the beginning of an unprecedented chapter in the history of modern life.

The social alarm is understandable, but contextualizing the moment of humanity we live in helps us. “In the Middle Ages, viruses traveled at the speed of a pack horse and in most places they could only infect small cities and towns. Today a virus can travel in business class across the world in 24 hours, and infect megalopolis with millions of inhabitants”, Yuval Harari tells us, and goes on to say that “theoretically, things should have been much worse today than in the Middle Ages. But in practice, in the last 100 years, both the incidence and the impact of epidemics have decreased dramatically. 

Despite AIDS and Ebola, epidemics have killed far fewer humans in recent decades than at any time since the Stone Age. This is because the best defense that humans have against pathogens is not isolation, but information.

While the inhabitants of the Middle Ages never discovered what caused the black plague, it took only two weeks for current scientists to identify the new coronavirus, sequence its genome, and develop a test to identify those infected.”

A prominent role in post modern society

As brands come to terms with themselves on the role they can play in lessening the impact of covid-19 on both society and the economy, we are going to see a profound transformation for many companies. This means that it is relevant for brands to discover how to set the right path and tone while ensuring that they are doing the right thing not only for their business, but also, and above all, for society.

To a large extent, given the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus, brands have been unsure of how to help without seeming to benefit from the crisis. The question that arises within many companies is, where is the legitimate and authentic space of the brand to act, both for the short-term survival of the company and for the long-term construction of the brand.

While some brands are focused on helping people overcome the challenges of illness and isolation, others are working to help communities and economies recover. There are also those who do both and those who do neither, some because they cannot and others because they do not want to.

Brands need to understand the changing needs of consumers and their emotional state, today more like a roller coaster than anything else. And keeping that in mind is essential when communicating or silence. If people are scared or overwhelmed, this is not the time to pretend they are not. Also, now is not the time to market to a state of panic. The lines are very fine and you have to learn to establish them.

Value creation in times of crisis

Brands can and should take advantage of the crisis as an opportunity to rethink their relationship with the coming society, to build a product, service or ecosystem more suitable for the future. This is not the time for half measures or funky brands. It is time for brands to be brave. And it is the actions that matter, not the words.

Here are some companies that were founded during previous recessions: Airbnb, Amgen, Burger King, Chevrolet, CNN, Disney, Denny’s, Electronic Arts, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Genzyme, Goldman Sachs, Hershey, Hyatt, IBM, Kraft Foods, Marriott, MTV, Procter & Gamble, Slack, Square, Trader Joe’s, Uber, UPS or Urban Outfitters to name a few.

Opportunists abstain.

The problem with marketing in times of crisis is that it is very easy for mediocre brands to do it on a superficial level. Adding the “stay homelogo to your Twitter profile is effortless. If it is a real effort the commitment that the brand assumes with its employees, suppliers and customers to take care of them during the crisis. The actions they take to make their values and their commitment tangible.

It will always be easier said than done, of course, but in the crisis we are going through, every brand with purpose, regardless of the size of their organization, should consider doing more than just gestures and directly helping people. needy. If each self-employed person, SME, company or corporation contributes with what they can, we will not put the brand’s destiny in the hands of governments more concerned and occupied with other matters.

The technology that connects us

The World Health Organization @WHO launched its WhatsApp alert service on March 20. In one day they reached 6 million users. Facebook is behind. Precisely the company founded by Zuckerberg Facebook has promised to help SMEs with a $ 100 million grant program to help companies affected by the outbreak.

Along with Google, Facebook has also been having conversations with the United States  Government on how to use the location data acquired from mobile phones to fight the virus. Public health experts are testing the potential to collect data that will allow them to map the spread of the infection and track whether people are kept at a safe distance.

On the platform, people are coming together to support their neighbors and communities through hundreds of Facebook Groups that have sprung up in just the past few days to provide and share useful information to their communities.

Jack Ma, who retired as president of Alibaba, tweeted a photo of a shipment of 1 million masks and 500,000 coronavirus test kits for “our friends in America” ​​from China. Ma is also sending shipments of medical supplies to Europe, calling for international cooperation efforts to combat the spread. At the same time that it announces, also on Twitter that it will donate emergency supplies, 1.8 million masks, 210 thousand test kits, 36 thousand protective suits, more fans and thermometers to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar , Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. And he concludes that “delivering quickly is not easy, but we will do it!”

Google established a COVID-19 fund that allows all temporary staff and providers, worldwide, to take paid sick leave if they have potential coronavirus symptoms, or are unable to enter work because they are quarantined.

LinkedIn has opened 16 of its learning courses for free, providing tips on how to stay productive, build relationships when you’re not face-to-face, use virtual meeting tools, and balance family and work dynamics in a healthy way. It is also helping companies use live video to replace physical meetings and deal with business continuity.

Brands that inspire by example

We are seeing some remarkable cases and I would like to mention some.

In the United States and Canada, Uber has promised free food for medical providers. It has also been launching daily marketing campaigns, both in-app and by email, to promote the delivery of 100,000 independent restaurants that are most financially at risk to customers staying at home.

To add to the ongoing cycle of hand washing that NHS (The National Health Service of the United Kingdom) workers are undertaking, the skincare brand L’Occitane has been sending hand creams to hospitals.

Domino’s sent free pizzas to Spanish healthcare personnel as a token of appreciation and appreciation for the work they are doing.

Pornhub has been offering a free premium membership to those stuck in Italy to “help accompany you for the next few weeks at home.”

Carrefour in Spain and Argentina or Iceland, Lidl or Sainsbury’s in Great Britain, which allow older and vulnerable customers to enter their stores during the first hour or two of business, for example.

Publishers Spainmedia, Hearst and Condé Naste are offering free access to all their publications.

The Prado Museum, the Reina Sofía Museum and the Thyssen Museum invite us to visit them without leaving home. Instagram stories, virtual visits and activities bring us closer to them.

SAGE Spain facilitated teleworking as soon as the CAM closed the schools. Then to all the other employees. It has also offered free remote access to customers and training aids to make #quedateencasa (#stayathome) possible for everyone.

Puleva helps bringing coffee to all health personnel in all Spanish hospitals.

Pronovias has donated wedding dresses to health center staff.

Lemme´s, in Madrid, collaborates by bringing snacks to hospitals, and people who need it. And they do it daily.

Postural Fit does every day direct postural training for kids, teens, adults, and seniors.

Mango will donate and distribute two million masks through its own logistics among the different hospitals in Spain, many of which are in shortage of essential medical supplies to carry out their heroic work.

The distribution will be made following the instructions of the Ministry of Health.

Inditex announced that it has made all of its logistics, supply and commercial management capacity available to the Government, especially from China, to meet the emergency needs, both for medical and textile materials, that are currently needed. Plus the donation of 300 thousand protective surgeries.

In Spain, Pernod Ricard, Nivea, González Byass and Bacardi give plants to make disinfectants against the coronavirus.

In a collaborative compilation, some 40 examples of freelancers and small, medium and large companies that are making a difference these days; here: https://twitter.com/AndyStalman/status/1240710712315576320

After the coronavirus, what?

For brands, adopting a new paradigm of commitment, responsibility, empathy and agility means starting to set foot in tomorrow. And above all, be generous. That is what people will remember when this is over. And no company has become poor for giving.

At some point in the future, I imagine consumers, clients or citizens asking brands that sell themselves as ‘purpose’ brands: What did YOU do during the COVID-19 crisis?

Those that have made something will be favored with the time, attention and affection of the clients.

Learning to listen.

Finishing his speech at TED, Bill Gates finished by saying, “Now I don’t have an exact budget for what this would cost, but I’m pretty sure it’s very modest compared to the potential damage. The World Bank estimates that if we have a global flu epidemic, global wealth will shrink by more than $ 3,000,000,000,000 and we will have millions upon millions of deaths. These investments offer significant benefits beyond being prepared for the epidemic. Primary health care, R&D; Those things would reduce global health equity and make the world fairer and safer.

So I think this should absolutely be a priority. There is no need to panic. We don’t have to rack up cans of spaghetti or go down to the basement. But we have to get going, because time is not on our side.

And we didn’t listen to him. Although time, five years!, was on our side.

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